Trust-Based Philanthropy

The Whitman Institute’s approach to trust-based philanthropy is informed by decade of experience that funder-grantee relationships are stronger when they are built on the foundation of trust. The idea is simple: philanthropy can be more effective when funders approach their grantee relationships from a place of trust, rather than suspicion.

We believe efforts to create social, political, and economic equity will be more successful if philanthropy embeds trust, dialogue, and relationship-building in its practices with grantees. A trust-based approach relies on the following pillars:

9 Key Principles of Trust-Based Philanthropy

There clearest way to demonstrate trust is to rely on the grantee to determine the best use of its resources. Unrestricted funding also kindles the freedom to learn, adapt and take risks. It is critical in supporting an organization’s sustainability and effectiveness.
The burden of proof in determining whether a leader and organization is a good fit for our portfolio is on us. We do the footwork and conduct the due diligence before inviting leaders to invest their time and attention.
We enter collaborations with humility by listening first and responding directly to the needs of our partners. Universally, they have much more knowledge of their work, fields and challenges than we do. We place ourselves shoulder to shoulder, not ahead of, our grantee partners as we iterate and learn, together.
Our two Co-Executive Directors, who are also Trustees, operate with an open door policy. We acknowledge and send requests in timely ways so as not to surprise or overburden our partners, who are busy changing the world.
We actively partner with leaders and organizations whose work models relationship, dialogue, and equity in ways that inspire and inform our own. We also regularly solicit, reflect on, and take action on feedback from our grantees.
We have empathy for the messy and complex inner workings of teams and organizations; we don’t want our grantees to have to pretend that change strategies are perfect or team dynamics are seamless. Consequently, we strive to model transparency in ways that minimize power dynamics and move the work forward.
We seek to minimize our digital and paper footprint with grantees, and are generally quite satisfied with proposals and reports crafted for other funders. We also look for opportunities to consolidate our respective due diligence efforts.
We are committed to offering support beyond money if our grantees see it as helpful. Some of the ways we do this include opening doors; highlighting their leadership and work; being a sounding board and source of advice; providing spaces for reflection; connecting and convening; and generally, being of service where needed to bolster leadership and organizational capacity.
Of the number of ways we offer support beyond the check, our grantees have lifted up the value of our retreats. We convene current (and some previous) grantees along with like-hearted funders and capacity builders to harness inspiration and renewal; encourage cross-sector connection; build and strengthen relationships; support peer learning; and encourage self-organized collaboration of all kinds.

Download our Overview of Trust-Based Philanthropy.