A Look Inside Magic Cabinet’s Approach to Participatory Grantmaking

Curious to learn more about how we engage with communities and nonprofits? In our upcoming blog series, we will walk through Magic Cabinet’s engagement process, stage by stage, and share what we’re learning and curious to learn more about. Follow along to learn more and sign up for one of our upcoming events to connect with our engagement staff!

Magic Cabinet’s mission is to open new pathways to philanthropy, and our primary activity is to support nonprofits through long-term capacity-building funding. To do this, we convene cohorts of three nonprofits over 4-5 years. These cohorts meet quarterly for peer-to-peer knowledge sharing and to collectively approve grant proposals. Organizations are chosen for engagement through a multi-tiered process, including regional research, community input, nonprofit research, and direct connection with nonprofits.

In 2018, Gloria Upchurch, now a Senior Engagement Officer, was charged with developing the engagement process from the ground up. In her words, “The vision for supporting nonprofits through our new model was born in the Mission District, California, so we started there by asking: What nonprofits exist in this neighborhood? What do they do? How big are they? Then we started connecting with organizations, cold calling, and knocking on doors. I think one of the things that made this phase work is that we were so transparent. We were willing to tell people, ‘We’re brand new. We’ve never done this before, but we would love it if you would come along with us.”

Building off of Gloria’s initial work, Magic Cabinet continues to hone our approach of putting communities at the center of each stage of the engagement process.


Through public resources such as the census, we look for communities that are systematically under-resourced and overlooked by traditional philanthropic institutions.


We connect with leaders, grantmakers, and community members to learn more about community needs to guide our engagement. 


Our Engagement Officers dive back into research to glean information about nonprofits in the region through community input, organization websites, and 990s.


Through this phase, we connect directly with nonprofits and hear from them through a brief application, the Impact Capacity Assessment Tool (iCat), a site visit, and a celebratory gathering for all participating organizations.


We recruit and convene regional community leaders to form an Advisory Committee that is charged with the final selection of nonprofits.

The engagement process began with relationships and has continued to evolve to center human connection and minimize the burden on nonprofits. We believe our participatory approach allows Magic Cabinet to engage communities directly in the identification and prioritization of their own needs and solutions. 

In upcoming posts, we’ll dive into each phase of Magic Cabinet’s approach to find, connect, and empower community leaders throughout our participatory grantmaking.

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