hawkins@growyourgiving.org Individual & Family Giving

Philanthropy Built on a Foundation of Trust: Using Trust-Based Values to Strengthen the Philanthropic Sector

Trust is the foundation for all of our relationships – it can make, build, and break any bond. It is no different for the relationship between donors and nonprofits. Leaning into trust as a donor is a key tool in expanding your relationship with an organization and supports charitable giving that is both meaningful and impactful.

Tune in to the conversation in the video below, featuring Senior Philanthropic Advisors Kelli Doyle and Gwen Wurst. Kelli and Gwen, both passionate about the trust-based approach, share more about the principles and actions philanthropists can implement to create more trusting relationships with nonprofits. You’ll learn:

  • What trust-based philanthropy means
  • Actions you can take to strengthen trustworthy relationships with nonprofits
  • How we can help you add a trust-based approach to your grantmaking

Our deepest thanks go to the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project for the insight used in this video.

One key component of building trusting relationships with nonprofits is finding organizations that share your same values.  If you’re curious about exploring the values that drive your giving decisions and adding a trust-based approach to your philanthropy, contact our philanthropic advisors today.

More resources on trust-based philanthropy:


Video Transcription

Kelli Doyle:

Hello. And thank you for joining us today. We’re thrilled to have you with us during this opportunity to inspire your philanthropic journey and empower you to give in ways that are meaningful to you. I’m Kelli Doyle, a philanthropic advisor, and joining me today is Gwen Wurst, also a philanthropic advisor. Right now in this segment, we will be focusing on the principles of trust-based philanthropy. Thank you, Gwen, so much, for joining me on this topic. I know it is one that is near and dear to both of our hearts. To start us off, can you share a little bit about trust-based philanthropy? I know we’ve been hearing a lot from donors. Give us the story about trust-based philanthropy. What is it, and why is it important, right now?

Gwen Wurst:

The notion of trust-based philanthropy has been around for years. But the trust-based philanthropy project was launched about five years ago, when three private foundations came together to re-imagine the relationship between funders, nonprofits, and the people that nonprofits serve, really re-imagining that power dynamic, and trying to reverse that dynamic, and instead to ground all of the work between those entities in a relationship of trust and shared values.

Kelli Doyle:

Can you talk to us about how they really envision that change playing out?

Gwen Wurst:

At their core, they’re looking at redistributing power, systemically, organizationally, and interpersonally. You’re building a relationship based on trust and shared values. And they’re hoping that that relationship is in service to a healthier nonprofit ecosystem.

Kelli Doyle:

As foundations and donors start to pick up this trust-based philanthropy, what is that starting to look like now, as folks do philanthropy? What are some of the core tenets of trust-based philanthropy in action?

Gwen Wurst:

There are six principles that they like to focus on. First one, it’s like the magic bullet if you’re in a nonprofit. It’s multi-year general operating support. If you think about, in the for-profit sector, I walk into the hardware store, I’m going to buy a hammer, I go to the checkout, and they don’t say, “Oh, but will you cover my operating expenses for opening the hardware store?” That doesn’t happen, but it happens in the nonprofit sector all the time. We say to the homeless shelter, “We only want to pay for the food.” Long term, that doesn’t work. That general operating support levels the playing field and lets that organization do what they need to do, and they become the people that identify what’s best for their investments. The next one, the second one, is do your homework. How many times do you go meet with a non-profit leader or the development director, whoever it is, and you ask them the very questions that are on their website.

Kelli Doyle:

Mm-hmm.

Gwen Wurst:

And the idea is, value their time as you hope they value yours.

Kelli Doyle:

Mm-hmm.

Gwen Wurst:

Third, simplify and streamline the paperwork. You and I both came out of the nonprofit sector. We know applications can be just massive and tenuous, and can take up days and days.

Kelli Doyle:

Mm-hmm.

Gwen Wurst:

So, they’re re-imagining that. Foundations across the country are saying, “Maybe we just build this up, a relationship. Maybe the application is just the beginning of the conversation. The fourth is, be transparent and responsive. We always expect a nonprofit to pick up the phone if the funder calls. Likewise, if a nonprofit contacts you, call them back. Call them back right away. And while you’re at it, if your board is considering a change, or if you personally are considering a change down the line, and you’ve been a nonprofit funder for years and years, let them know.

Kelli Doyle:

Yeah.

Gwen Wurst:

Let them know a change is coming.

Kelli Doyle:

Mm-hmm.

Gwen Wurst:

Fifth, solicit and act on feedback. Just like any other trusted relationship, I would hope you would tell me what I can do to improve.

Kelli Doyle:

Yeah.

Gwen Wurst:

Likewise. I would want to ask you about that, the same. And then finally, it’s, offer support beyond the check. And I think this is the place that especially individual donors can do so much.

Kelli Doyle:

Yeah.

Gwen Wurst:

Nonprofits need so much more help than just financial. And it’s not just volunteering. It’s advocating for them.

Kelli Doyle:

Mm-hmm.

Gwen Wurst:

It’s adding your talents to the pool.

Kelli Doyle:

Mm-hmm.

Gwen Wurst:

There’s so much. I’m sure you’ve seen some of those in action.

Kelli Doyle:

Certainly. Absolutely. The other thing, though, that you mentioned that I think is really important to lift up to our donors is about trust, but also having shared values. Would you be willing to just tell our donors a little bit about values and how they play a key role in this strategy for grantmaking?

Gwen Wurst:

When thinking about values, that’s something we talk with donors all the time, that if you center your giving around your values, you’ll have a more pleasant, but also you’ll get to the core interests that you have. So, if you find an organization that has shared values, what a tremendous impact you can make. You’re on the same track. You’re motivated by the same values.

Kelli Doyle:

If you know what you value as a donor, you can show up to a conversation, and that’s easy to talk about. It’s easy to talk about and share where you see yourself and how you can lend those values to the mission of the organization.

Gwen Wurst:

What a great point. It reminds me of a donor that we have here, as a successor advisor, actually. And their friend had had the fund for over 25 years, and he passed away and asked them to take over the fund. They looked back at his giving and realized that he’d been very committed to two or three organizations, and gave them money every single year. And so, they decided, “Well. Let’s continue that. What were the things that were important to him?” What were the things that are important to you? And right off the bat, made a multi-year commitment. They said, “He’d been giving for years and years, let’s codify this relationship a little bit more.

Kelli Doyle:

The other one I wanted to tease out a little bit more from this conversation is the importance of, as you’re building that relationship with nonprofits, that importance of listening to what they’re saying, and being able to connect with the communities.

Gwen Wurst:

That reminds me of another donor that volunteered. He’d been a donor at an organization for a long time, and had gotten to know the executive director and gotten to know some of the other staff, and went out literally to pound some nails. And when he was there, there was an activity going on, and there were people there that were participating in a program, and all he did was listen. And for the first time, he was hearing firsthand what was happening in that space. And he said the transformation was that now when he spoke with the nonprofit, he’d heard the words exactly from the community they were serving, and it was transformative for him.

Kelli Doyle:

As donors start to learn more about trust-based philanthropy, and thinking about moving into some of these practices, where is the best place to start?

Gwen Wurst:

I think three of those principles are the low-hanging fruit. Multi-year unrestricted giving. I think that’s an easy one to start with. Being transparent and responsive. And then, offering support beyond the check. I think those are the first three I’d start going with. But if somebody wants to learn more, I hope they reach out to their philanthropic advisors. We’re happy to help and can provide a lot of different resources and support. Earlier, you mentioned dialing back a little bit, trying to lean into the change in the power dynamic.

Kelli Doyle:

Mm-hmm.

Gwen Wurst:

And I’ve seen you do some of that work before. Could you share a little bit about the level of humility that you bring to that relationship?

Kelli Doyle:

When we enter these spaces, we all have to give ourselves permission to be human, and allow the nonprofit to be human. Organizations who feel like they can show up and be authentic and honest in relationship with a donor, or even someone that they’re serving, have a tremendous impact. I think, a lot of times when we talk about that power dynamic, the pressure for the nonprofit to continuously, over and over again, perform and to show you what the impact is that they’re having, it’s unending. And it’s a lot. Just saying, “It’s okay. Tell me about the challenges you’re having. How can I be a partner with you in alleviating those challenges? How can I be a partner with you in serving this community,” and really trying to become part of the team instead of necessarily dictating the direction?

Gwen Wurst:

I think the only thing I would add is what you just pointed out, which is that we’re partners. And I think when funders consider themselves partners with the nonprofits that are doing that work, we go a long way to establishing trust.

Kelli Doyle:

Yeah.

Gwen Wurst:

So, thank you for the opportunity to chat.

Kelli Doyle:

Thank you so much, Gwen, for joining me for this conversation. I know it is a topic that you and I are both deeply passionate about. And thank you to our listeners for joining us today on the topic of trust-based philanthropy. If you would like to take a deeper dive or learn more information on this topic, please feel free to reach out to us.


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