Trust As A Way Forward

September 25, 2014 //
by Pia Infante
The Context
Recently, we hosted a salon on The Role of Trust in Our Work – attended by a mixed group of funder friends, grantees, capacity builders, and consultants.  The prompt sparked our thinking about how to design relationships, collaboration and convening that intentionally scaffold trust building.  We all agreed that powerful social good impact cannot happen without trust, and often we get to new solutions and effective collaboration towards community and policy change at “the speed of trust.”
The conversation brought forth a number of different forms and paces of trust that I found compelling. Here is a brief (incomplete) list for types of trust building that could be of use in our collective practice:
Types of Trust Building
(A Small Compendium)
Cumulative Trust: At TWI, we’ve often used the phrase “time over time” to acknowledge that building trust in relationships (at the individual or group level) is accrued by demonstrations of reliability (and vulnerability/intimacy)  over time.  This trust is evidence and relationship- based – a person or group consistently demonstrates that they will do what they said they would do and that they can be counted on — and do so in a way that encourages relationship and interdependence. 
Accelerated Trust:  Others spoke to human centered process design to accelerate trust building, particularly when there is pressing common purpose.  Some of these include peer-to-peer sharing about the value of the group, creating opportunities for vulnerability and mutual support, and encouraging people to show up fully in their purpose, strength, and vulnerability.  Actually, when these types of accelerated processes are reinforced over time, the power of relationship builds – and so cumulative trust grows even stronger.

Assumed Trust:  We talked about this type of trust as the human yelp function – that often we immediately trust those whom our trusted partners and advisors trust.  This is not a new concept – businesses are built on referral and many tech platforms integrate ways to see who and what our friends trust to leverage possibilities for opportunity and connection in our wider social networks.  It is powerful when investors take this trust stance, and shoulder the work of vetting for fit (with a leader or group) themselves.
Implicit (“Burst-y”) Trust:  We talked, too, about the physiology of trust – many of us assess within seconds whether or not a new person or organization is trustworthy.  This type of immediate, or “burst-y” trust, we realized, can also be attributed to our inherently tribal nature.  We trust those who look and smell like us.  We trust those who exhibit signs that they share our frameworks and worldview.  This immediate instinctual affinity creates little “bursts” of excitement, empathy, love-at-first-sightedness that is literally heart warming! We realized that this trust can build in implicit bias, so needs to be questioned, but is a very human way to behave. We might also use the label “Intuitive Trust” for this one, to name the role that intuition can play in guiding our investments of time, talent, and resource. 
Cross Institutional Trust:  One reflection on our conversation was that we were often discussing trust between individuals, when there is a great need to build trust across institutions.  For instance, in philanthropy, greater trust between institutions could lead to both more streamlined grant-making and greater social, political and economic impact.  Trust between institutions also enables the organizations to maintain their relationship when key individuals or leaders leave the organization, which is a promising way to ensure that institutional wisdom and influence does not have to be lost when key staff transition out.
Trust As A Way Forward 

“Humans are basically trustworthy.”  When this sentiment was expressed, the group sighed a collective sigh.  It seemed so incredibly true.  Except when it doesn’t – like when public servants demonstrate they cannot be trusted or accountable to the public good.  I won’t dive into grappling the simplicity vs. complexity of this premise, but invite you respond to this or anything else in this post that strikes you.
What does feel true to me in this moment is this – explicitly naming that trust plays a vital role in advancing equity in our community, advocacy, and philanthropic initiatives is rare and important. 
Our hope is that TWI can be louder and braver in naming the role that trust and relationships of equity play in moving social, political, and economic dials towards a brighter, better world for all (not just some) of us.


  1. Frank H. Burton on October 5, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    There is a type of trust unmentioned here, but which I believe would have been important to Mr Whitman himself: "Reasoned Trust."

    It is the trust we have in those committed to acting as sapient beings: Those who use Reason as their chief source, test and conduit of knowledge.

    For example, we quickly come to trust even those outside of our worldview-based "tribes" who are objective (able to accept reality), open-minded (able to question assumptions), and equable (able to communicate without insults or emotive language).

    In contrast, we quickly come to distrust even those within our "tribes" who are subjective (who deny reality), close-minded (who refuse to question assumptions), and emotional (who communicate emotively to undercut others reasoning ability).

    Trust is thus a consequence of our commitment to more consistently practice simple everyday reasoning, regardless of our disparate worldviews — to practice "pluralistic rationalism." Without the practice of plurationalism, our species will never become trustworthy of its name, "Homo sapiens."