Key Points

As part of ongoing efforts to engage grant partner voices in their work with young people who have intellectual disabilities, program staff at the Peter & Elizabeth Tower Foundation have explored the notion of being physically proximate to these young people as a way to more authentically listen to them and their families — those for whose benefit the foundation’s grant dollars are ultimately intended.

The staff’s most recent engagement strategy looked at a way of solving problems and designing solutions for people that puts those people at the focal point of the process: human-centered design. For the Tower Foundation, this approach proved an effective team-building initiative with the potential to make grantmaking more participatory and to generate grantmaking opportunities that better incorporate beneficiary voice.

This article describes human-centered design and its applications in a foundation setting. It briefly discusses philanthropy’s history with the approach, recounts the foundation’s past efforts to engage grant beneficiaries and shares the journey with one project that sought to understand barriers to a particular grantmaking objective, reflects on some learning for the field, and concludes with thoughts about where human-centered design can take us next.

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Open Access Sponsor

Support for this open access article is provided by the Peter & Elizabeth Tower Foundation.

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