Degale headshot

By Degale Cooper,
Chief Executive Officer

Trust-based philanthropy is an alternative to traditional philanthropy as we currently know it. This approach has gained traction in recent years and is rooted in the core values of advancing equity, shifting the balance of power, and building mutually accountable relationships between nonprofits and funders. Through these values, trust-based philanthropy seeks to inspire nonprofits and funders to demonstrate humility and collaboration to make a lasting impact in our communities.

Values of Trust-Based Philanthropy 

While there is no set list of core values, there are general guidelines that have been central to the work of the nonprofits and funders who have pioneered this approach:

Work for systematic equity
Center relationships
Partner in a spirit of service
Be accountable
Embrace learning

Having clear values allows all those in the nonprofit-funder relationship to navigate discussions in times of change or uncertainty.

How Trust-Based Philanthropy Supports Nonprofits

According to the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project, trust-based philanthropy “works to build a more equitable nonprofit-funder ecosystem through a rigorous approach that values relationship-building and power-sharing over transaction and control.” Transactional interactions have become common in the nonprofit sector, but the goal of trust-based philanthropy is that through open lines of communication, nonprofits, and funders can foster relationships that work for all parties.

Together, nonprofits and funders can achieve their intended impact while allowing room to plan, innovate and grow around emergent needs as they arise. This ability to be nimble and meet the needs of the community in real-time fosters a healthier connection between the nonprofit, funder, and the community at large. While this article may be some people’s first introduction to this approach, it has been backed by many leaders of foundations, philanthropic organizations, and elsewhere in the nonprofit sector.

Benefits to Funders

After the national reckoning with racial, economic, and political inequities in recent years, the public is hungry for substantive change, including how funds are being allocated. Most funding organizations have not completed their journey to understand their power and role in this system. Recognizing the need for a shift can be both exciting and overwhelming, and change requires change. Grantmakers have the opportunity to move beyond tools like feedback surveys and site visits and instead lean into the work of discovering effective ways to listen to the communities they serve.

Through these efforts, funders can achieve a greater sense of confidence that their assets are being used in the most impactful way possible to positively benefit their community.

Trust-Based Philanthropy in the Pacific Northwest

As pointed out by the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project, “While the approach formally originated in the U.S., its values and approaches have been practiced and embraced by grantmakers around the world … who have long recognized the need to shift power in order to be in the right relationship with communities.”

In the Pacific Northwest, MacKenzie Scott’s recent rounds of donations have made it clear she is willing to go “all in” on trust and transparency in giving.

Puget Sound Energy Foundation has embraced trust-based philanthropy in recent years. Through this process, the foundation conducted research to assess its potential areas of investment, leveraging the information on organizations’ websites and financial documents and gathering information from the community to select the missions and organizations it wished to support. It then invited the shortlist of organizations to a meeting where it asked a small collection of questions regarding impact and goals, after which the funding decisions were made and shared. The result is swift and impactful, delivering strong operating support while allowing the organizations to focus their resources on mission delivery.

The Trust-Based Philanthropy Project website is a great resource for more information.

See Degale’s original article published in the Puget Sound Business Journal.

Connect directly with YouthCare’s CEO Degale Cooper here.
Support YouthCare’s transformational work with youth here.