With global governance experiencing a democratic deficit, the G20's formalized engagement with civil society – the C20 – seems to be an anomaly. However, there is a gap between the G20's rhetoric and practice, with the C20 incorporating civil society organizations (CSOs) into the G20, while also limiting their ability to contribute to its agenda. This article attempts make sense of this gap by analysing the C20 through the modes of participation framework, arguing it represents an attempt to organize and manage social conflicts emerging from civil society, but do so in a way that constrains its ability to contest G20 policy. The article analyses the ways in which the C20 is designed to do so, as well as CSO strategies to overcome these constraints. While these strategies increase CSO's leverage and independence, their effectiveness remains shaped by G20 practices and the underlying political economy structures of the global economy.