Accompaniment—a form of high-engagement grantmaking—is central to the Fund’s unique model of trust-based philanthropy. It’s one of the most important ways our global program staff provide support to activists. But what does accompaniment actually look like in the field? And what makes accompaniment different from other forms of support?
To learn more, we turned to our vice president for programs, David Mattingly. In this Fund 101 explainer, David, who has more than 15 years of experience funding frontline human rights activism, breaks down the principles and practice of accompaniment.
In a few sentences, what does accompaniment mean?
David Mattingly: Accompaniment is a type of high-engagement grantmaking that gives activists and organizations holistic support—beyond funding—to help them achieve their goals. Through accompaniment, funders really act as partners, walking alongside grantees in the struggle to achieve justice and human rights. Instead of just providing money through grants, funders can offer strategic support, skills training, and others forms of non-financial resources to frontline activists all along the way.
What does accompaniment look like in action?
Accompaniment takes many forms. The central principle is to be flexible and responsive to the unique needs of different activists and organizations. Some of the most common practices to accompany grantees include:
Being a sounding board
Grantmakers can provide confidential counsel and moral support, especially in times of crisis. It can be valuable to have someone who knows you and your organization well, but is not part of the organization, to be there for you as you navigate challenges.
Facilitating security assistance
Human rights advocates working across a range of issues—including accountability for rights violations, the rights of religious minorities, climate justice, and the rights of LGBTQ+ people—face threats and violent attacks intended to silence their activism. One of the most important forms of accompaniment is helping groups assess and mitigate threats to their physical and digital security.
Making introductions and connections
Grantmakers are often in the privileged position of receiving information and analysis from groups working across a wide range of issues and in different geographies. This can enable funders to identify potential opportunities for mutual learning among activists or to convene organizations working in different sectors that face similar challenges and may wish to build coalitions.
Serving as a bridge to the wider donor community
For better or worse, donors often rely on references from other grantmakers when making funding decisions. Having an ally in the funding community can help you identify new sources of financing and most effectively make the case for a grant.
Is accompaniment different than other forms of technical assistance and non-financial support?
For high-engagement grantmaking to be accompaniment, the purpose and intention of the non-grantmaking support must be to help activists achieve their own objectives. For example, making introductions and convening activists working on different issues is a form of accompaniment when responding to the demands of the organizations themselves. Bringing together groups because you would like to see them work together is directive and therefore not truly accompanying grantees in pursuit of their own aims.
Another example would be conducting site visits—meeting members of a grassroots organization in their community. If, for example, the primary purpose of a site visit is to assess the work of the group and communicate which projects you deem worthy of support, then it is not accompaniment. But if the intention is to understand the challenges of the group more deeply so you can provide support on their terms and according to their priorities, then it is.
Is accompaniment always necessary in a grantmaking relationship?
Do activists need their funders to take a hands-on approach to be successful? Absolutely not. In many cases, organizations only need flexible funding. In fact, if you receive funding from several sources, it may not be feasible or desirable to develop close working relationships with each of them. Again, the core principle of accompaniment is to respond grantees’ expressed needs, not to insert yourself into the work in ways that don’t bring added value.
Who is best suited to provide accompaniment to activists?
Funders are best positioned to provide useful accompaniment if they are in close proximity to the work, have the knowledge and experience to understand grantees’ challenges, and have a strong, trusting relationship with the activists. In this case, proximity could refer to physical location—it’s easiest to provide ongoing accompaniment when grantmakers live and work in the same place as grantees—or the working relationship—even when the funder is based in a different country than the activists they support, they can accompany grantees effectively if they are involved in meetings and discussions among the activist’s community and thereby are present in the work. Similarly, accompaniment can be most helpful when the grantmaker is deeply knowledgeable about challenges facing grantees and is themselves an activist.
Most importantly, trust is the key to effective accompaniment. The activist must feel safe sharing their struggles and challenges with a person who has influence over their funding. Often, this trust is built over time and through shared experience, so grantmakers best suited to accompany their grantees are those that provide long-term, steady support.
How does the Fund accompany activists?
Combining flexible funding with accompaniment is the core of the Fund’s model for supporting human rights activists. Our frontline team of activist-grantmakers are embedded in human rights communities in the countries where we work and see accompaniment as part of their roles as funders—as well as an extension of their activism. They deploy their expertise to help grantees achieve their own aims.
While there is an inherent power differential in funding relationships, we strive to strike the right balance of bringing our knowledge and experience to the table to support groups on their own terms and in ways that are not directive or colonialist. In fact, we see accompaniment not only as a one-way form of support but as an exchange of expertise. This requires constant reflection and interrogation, and we are always learning from our grantees and our work with them.