Based on the interview with Romy Krämer, the managing director of the Guerilla Foundation on 10th of May 2023

By Eszter Filippinyi (Deputy Director- TAI)
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The Guerrilla Foundation is an intermediary funder in Europe, supporting activists and grassroots movements in a more participatory way. Its team believes in bringing about major systemic change across Europe in line with frameworks such as the Just Transition, the Great Transition, Buen Vivir, intersectional thinking, and new municipalism. In the last couple of months, Guerrilla has also been engaged in a process of internal restructuring to ensure a more equal sharing of power.

This is what TAI learned from Romy: 

The Guerrilla Foundation was founded in 2016 by Toni Schwarz a progressive heir, with Romy Krämer as the Managing Director of what was then a relatively traditional private foundation. Early on though, conversations around philanthropy as a symptom of extractive capitalism and the need for real redistribution and power-sharing with affected communities began to happen. This was seen as one way to contribute to tackling the root causes of inequality and moving power to marginalized groups in an effort to contribute to a world where philanthropy would ultimately cease to exist because large-scale wealth extraction and hoarding would become impossible.

These conversations are reflected in the foundation’s systems change approach to grant-making which lays the focus on who to support (grassroots activists and collectives with systems change demands) rather than what (specific issue areas). Therefore, the Guerrilla Foundation supports a wide range of partners, including LGBTQI groups, anti-racism, or groups from the climate justice movement. Grants are often core funding but in some cases, they also offer project funding.


Romy stressed that a connection to the right narrative is key for the Guerrillas when selecting grantees and communicating about their work: “To build our narrative we need conversations about how we want to live, how we can help the extractive capitalist system to die, and how we can start creating new systems”. “To move towards this vision, we need to support the people who are at the front lines, the people that are most impacted by the current system, and help them to build power”.

For Romy, it is imperative to think about where power is concentrated now: “Philanthropy is one of the sectors where some wealthy individuals, their families, and their advisers decide on what the priority issues are, how they want to allocate the resources, and what ‘success’ means. 

Concepts like impact measurement or effective altruism help stabilize and legitimize the sector while ignoring issues of extraction, oppression, and inequality. The Guerrilla Foundation decided to ‘measure’ impact differently. Keeping activist groups alive and allowing them to strategise with a longer-term perspective, or preventing individuals in those groups from having burnout syndrome are indicators of success. Success is also about channeling funding to groups that usually don't receive it because they challenge the status quo, and not prescribing what their goals should be or how these should be approached.”


But how to move from a relatively traditional model of a private foundation where the funder leads the decision-making? How to involve more activists, and their target groups? 

A first way to venture into participatory grantmaking was the co-founding of FundAction, a 250+ community of activists distributing donor money within their community without donors having a say (whether they are big foundations or private individuals). 

At the end of 2021, after a couple of years of learning and reflection and experiencing the work of the Guerrilla team, the founder, Toni Schwarz, announced that he was ready to step back, and no longer needed to be directly involved in grantmaking and day-to-day operations. 

Thus, in 2022, Guerrilla ventured into updating its own grantmaking practice and governance system. This meant setting up an 11-member Activist Council of previous grantees and other activists from the regions and communities the Foundation serves and getting them involved in the decision-making process about grants. To contribute to learning in the sector, the entire process is being documented on the G blog and the first lessons learned are shared in the 2022 Annual Report.

The next stage for the Guerrilla was to start questioning wealth. They now have a Funders Circle (currently with nine private funders) that is resourcing the foundation’s work. Funders are expected to engage with the work of the foundation (but not with grant decisions) and to self-organize, for example around the question of redistribution (instead of spending the 3% of their capital gains).  

Together with the Funders Circle and the Activist Council, the organization's triangle of governance is completed by the Foundation’s Team. The funders circle and the activist council join the strategic meetings and the staff is responsible for the daily operations. 

More recently, they have created a staff liaison committee, which includes 3-3 members of the activist council and the funder circle, and functions as a sounding board that has more regular contact with the team. Leadership has quarterly update meetings with the staff liaison committee for updates on spending, budget, and progress made, and to receive feedback. It is a way of accountability for the team to a wider ecosystem.

Currently, the Guerrillas are testing and adjusting this new structure with the aim of giving everyone a strong feeling of ownership. “In 2022 we focused on building the structure, recruiting people into the funder circle and the activist council, and setting up the basic processes. This year we focus on deepening the relationships within the governance system.” - Romy explained. 

Many ask whether increased participation is not an overly time-consuming process. At the heart of this question, however, is the preconceived idea of what efficiency means. Romy’s answer to this question is that perhaps it is time to decolonize our perception of what it means to run efficient operations. “Efficient operations might mean that you start getting in better relationships with each other, that you learn to negotiate power differences, that you learn to transform power and break down silos, for instance regarding the question of who is an activist, who is a funder, who is a team member”.


In Romy’s experience, if you are a white male and wealthy person what you say might be weighed more in a conversation. “We need to learn to facilitate and moderate processes where that may no longer be the case. We need to learn to build trusting relationships with each other, feel free to debate questions, and share input and feedback, irrespective of gender, race, age, wealth, and role in the organization”. 

“So, going back to the question about time, yes, it is much more time to operate in this structure, but time is well invested! Behind the structure and the blog posts on the website, there is a lot of background work of moderation, facilitation, figuring out what the good ways are, and how to be in conversation; do we have a shared Notion space; should we have a signal group,...?” - said Romy. 

Last year for instance the Foundation organized a two- and half-day retreat bringing together 5 funders, 5 activists, and 5 team members just to hang out together, share the same space, have relaxed time for conversations, go for a walk, and talk about work too, but not in a structured setting. It was a great success as it built strong human bonds and brought new ideas. 

However,  it is very different to work with wealthy individuals than with big philanthropic organizations. The latter are also interested in shifting power and the Guerrillas have been receiving invitations to talk at meetings and conferences. Several large funders honestly want to change the way they work but they also have very entrenched organizational structures. “They are like huge hard-to-move tanker ships. And perhaps we don’t need tankers anymore but instead loads of tiny boats.” 

“Some big foundations, while they appreciate the Guerrilla Foundation’s work and would like to support its activities, have a hard time accepting that they shouldn’t be prescribing how their money will be spent, and that the Guerrillas will be transparent about the source of the funding. Accepting money should not mean you accept the framing too. The Guerrillas discuss the terms with each potential funder, but prefer not to accept funds if they don’t align with the values of the organization.” 

Romy argues that “the philanthropic sector in its current form exists because of the capitalist system that is exploiting our planet beyond its limits. In the future, there should be a role for community philanthropy or crowdfunding, and for people supporting each other, but not for the corporatized large-scale global funders who can determine, for instance, the health policy of entire nation-states. Basically, no one should be able to accumulate insane amounts of money and extract money from nation-states to be able to do this.” 

“What is our thinking about abolishing extractive capitalism?” asks Romy and adds that conversations about this and the idea of decolonizing philanthropy are topics she would like to see more in philanthropy circles. 

The Guerrilla Foundation is very small but is aiming to be loud and to become a tiny example to show there is a model for philanthropy with a different governance system, a different way of doing things, and different values that can persist.

Romy believes that “philanthropic networks and collaboratives have an important role in this process, creating space for discussions and working toward shifting mentality and practice - but also holding each other accountable. Because, while big foundations have hierarchical structures, this does not absolve their staff from a certain responsibility and from a certain way they should be thinking – thinking that ultimately their job and role should be obsolete. In an ideal world, these big foundations should no longer exist.”


“It can be an interesting experiment for everyone in a philanthropic organization to start to talk about the colonial origins of their wealth, just like the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust has done. Shifting power is a long-term and complex process, but we can start it with a small step, e.g., starting a conversation, or putting information on the origin of the wealth on the website. And then the next step might be thinking about reparations or having an apology.”– says Romy. 

Think about the angle in your organization that you can start with!

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