Tag Archives: trust-based grantmaking

Trust-Based Philanthropy: Imagining better, more effective partnerships between funders and nonprofits

[Image description: A black dog and an orange striped cat nuzzling one another. Or the cat just slammed into the dog, I’m not really sure. Let’s assume they’re friends, because that would make this image a lot more relevant for this post, because if dogs and cats can be friends, then maybe funders and nonprofits can be more effective partners. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Happy Lunar New Year. If 2020 has sucked for you so far, you have a fresh new start. May the Year of the Rat bring you joy, love, good health, multi-year general operating funds, and Oxford Commas.

Last week, I wrote “It’s 2020. Be bold or get the hell out of the way.” Our sector’s addiction to intellectualizing, equivocating, risk-avoiding, and time-wasting is lethal, and there are few places where this is more present than within philanthropy. Because of power dynamics, these philosophies and practices get passed down to nonprofits, rendering us all less effective, leading to the continuation of injustice. We need philanthropy to be bold.

Which is why I am so grateful that the Headwaters Foundation, Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, and The Whitman Institute just launched the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project, “a five-year, peer-to-peer funder initiative with the goal of bringing greater vulnerability, transparency, and humility to philanthropy.”

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Trust-based grantmaking: What it is, and why it’s critical to our sector

ducklingThe Walking Dead is back on TV. After last season’s finale, and this season’s opener, I am not sure I will continue watching. But zombies do make me think of funding dynamics, so that’s why I am bringing it up. In The Walking Dead, the zombies are scary, but they are the least dangerous. Zombies eat brains; they don’t have brains; they don’t have hidden motives and plans; you know exactly what a zombie will do. It’s the humans who are terrifying. Pushed into survival mode, they calculate, lie, betray, and refuse to use the Oxford Comma (#OxfordCommaForever). No one trusts anyone, and it’s more often than not that groups of humans end up killing one another before a zombie actually gets to munch on anyone’s flesh.

What does this have to do with funding dynamics? Well, there seems to be a pervasive lack of starting with trust between funders and nonprofits, and it’s affecting all of us and our abilities to survive and do our work. The default starting relationship between funders and nonprofits is one of suspicion of the latter by the former, which leads to funders enacting policies and practices designed to make nonprofits more “accountable,” such as restricted funding, individualized applications, bespoke budget forms, customized reports, and other things that drive us nonprofits nuts. This in turns leads to nonprofits’ hiding of information, especially about challenges, from funders, which in turn reinforces the suspicion. All this perpetuates a depressing cycle of waste of time and energy and lots of complaining, usually at bars, and all that could have been used to deliver programs and services.
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