Trust-Based Philanthropy

Trust is at the heart of all relationships. But being human, we all fail at times at the “trust thing.” Sometimes we don’t even know it. We may think we are operating from a place of trust, but the people we are involved with don’t trust us.

A few weeks ago we wrote a column titled Ask for a lot; offer little. We received a quick response from Ursula Stewart, a grantmaking industry advisor at Salesforce. She was quick to pick up on how the column tied to an important movement within philanthropy. She reached out to us, writing “Here’s just several reasons why Trust-based Philanthropy is more than just a trend. If you, the funder, believe in the mission of grassroot NGOs to advance the impact to our society — then ask for less proof of early financial health and give more to build up financial health.”

Trust shows up in the nonprofit sector in the relationship between nonprofits and funders, where one group seeks money or resources to bring their vision to life, and the other seeks to “give away money” or make grants in order to bring their visions to life. While it can appear that the deck is stacked against nonprofits, funders actually need nonprofits. When you as a nonprofit leader feel discouraged and wonder “why won’t anyone fund me?” remember that funders can feel discouraged when wondering whether their grantmaking is making a difference. Both funders and nonprofits can benefit from the movement within philanthropy called “trust-based philanthropy.” One advocate for this approach is the aptly named Trust-Based Philanthropy Project. This project is all about peer-to-peer support for changes from across the philanthropic sector.

Here are the values at the core of trust-based philanthropy: Work for systemic equity: Recognize the racial, economic, and political inequities in which we operate, and take an antiracist approach to change practices and behaviors that perpetuate harm. Redistribute power: Be willing to share power with grantee partners and communities who are closer to the issues we seek to address. Center relationships: Prioritizing healthy, open, honest relationships can help us navigate the complexity of our work and our world with greater confidence and effectiveness. Partner in a spirit of service: Be a supporter and collaborator, rather than dictating what is needed. Lead with trust, respect, and humility. Be accountable: Our work will only be successful if we hold ourselves accountable to those who we seek to support. Embrace learning: We can only advance impact if we remain open to learning as we go, and embrace opportunities for growth and evolution along the way.

Here are three of the six practices they encourage. Give multi-year, unrestricted funding: the work of nonprofits is long-term and unpredictable. Multi-year, unrestricted funding gives grantees the flexibility to assess and determine where grant dollars are most needed, and allows for innovation, emergent action, and sustainability. Simplify and streamline paperwork: nonprofits spend an inordinate amount of time on funder-driven applications and reports, which can distract them from their mission-critical work. Streamlined approaches focused on dialogue and learning can pave the way for deeper relationships and mutual accountability. Offer support beyond the check: responsive, adaptive, non-monetary support bolsters leadership, capacity, and organizational health. This is especially critical for organizations that have historically gone without the same access to networks or level of support than their more established peers.

There are many resources you can access now. While designed for foundations, trust-based philanthropy can be used by other grantmaking organizations: check it out and see what you can do. If you are a nonprofit, considering asking your funders how they are embracing trust-based philanthropy values and practices.


Copyright 2022 – Mel and Pearl Shaw of Saad&Shaw – Comprehensive Fund Development Services. Let us help you plan for 2022! Video and phone conferencing services are always available. Call us at (901) 522-8727. www.saadandshaw.com

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1 comment on “Trust-Based Philanthropy”

  1. Lucy Shaw

    This is another ‘on the mark’ article! As I read your articles I am impressed with the many changes in grant making that are responsive to the post Covid-19 challenges of intentional misbehavior towards marginalized populations. I applaud the concept and aggressive championing of Trust Based Philanthropy. Thanks Guys!

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