The Whitman Institute has been mildly obsessed with the concept of trust-based philanthropy for quite a while now. For us, this doesn’t just mean giving multi-year unrestricted grants (even though that’s an important part of it!). For over a decade, we’ve made a point to make sure trust is embodied in our overall practice. We’ve prioritized relationships and dialogue over hefty application and reporting requirements. We’ve gone beyond the check by sitting on our grantees’ advisory boards, connecting them with other funders, and providing nonjudgmental support during challenging transitions. And we’ve hosted convenings — both formally and informally — to celebrate our grantees’ successes and give them an opportunity to unwind and unplug.
These actions are not simply out of the goodness of our hearts, even though we do really care about our grantees. Ultimately, we know this trust-based approach will help our grantees do their work with more confidence, less stress, and ultimately, greater effectiveness.
We’ve always been in good, albeit sparse, company when it comes to trust-based philanthropy. But our research indicates that the field may be growing. We launched a survey a little over a year ago to understand funders’ attitudes toward trust-based philanthropy, and to see how and whether trust was showing up in their practice. Based on the data that we’ve collected so far, we’re learning some great bits about how funders are practicing trust in their work, what constraints are preventing their ability to fully embody trust-in-practice, and which of the trust-based pillars they value the most.
As we augment our quantitative data with qualitative research in the field, we’re noticing more and more evidence of trust-based practice across foundations of all different shapes and sizes. In the last 9 months alone, we’ve seen a number of positive shifts toward multi-year grants, general operating support, streamlined paperwork, and more. One of the biggest reasons why, according to our research, is the age of Trump. A growing number of funders — especially those who support social justice work — are realizing that we must trust our grantees, and we must do everything in our power to remove barriers so that they can focus on doing the important work right now.
We plan to publish a deeper analysis of our survey in the coming months, but we need more comprehensive feedback before we do so. We’ve kept our survey open, so if you haven’t done so already, please fill it out spread the word. And if you’re curious about ways to bring more trust into your practice, read our Funder Spotlight series on our blog for some great tips, and contact us so we can discuss what strategies and approaches make the most sense for you.