Robert Sterling Clark Foundation Blog: Trust-Based Philanthropy Series Introductory Post

It’s a Matter of Trust: Introducing a New Blog Series on Trust-Based Philanthropy

By Philip Li

President & CEO

As many of you readers already know, the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation utilizes a trust-based philanthropy approach in our work. That means we thrive on relationships grounded in mutual trust and respect, and we seek to imbue those traits into every interaction—whether it’s with a grantee partner, an individual leader, a funder, a collaborator, or an ally. We seem to get the most interest and attention around our approach when it comes to how we interact with our grantee partners. Folks are often surprised to learn that we accept grant applications that were already submitted to other funders, for example. It’s part of our quest to simplify the process for grantees, minimizing their paperwork headaches and maximizing the time they can spend doing their important work. 

Trust-based philanthropy is not a new concept,  but naming it has recently helped us and like-minded funders to recognize our shared approach to grantmaking, and to identify some principles around that approach. We started in partnership with The Whitman Institute, which coined the phrase, and with the Headwaters Health Foundation of Western Montana, which adopted the practices as a new foundation.

We are all seeing increased interest in our approach. Folks want to know what trust-based philanthropy is and what it is about. We’re also being asked to speak about it with increased frequency.

While we certainly aren’t inventing something new – many foundations already use some of these practices and have for a long time – we are seeing the benefits of codifying the practices and giving the concept a name. In that way, we are glad to be playing a role in shaping and building a trust-based philanthropy movement.

The trust approach isn’t solely reflected in our work with grantee partners. It is also evident in the way that our trustees work with foundation staff, and the ways foundation staff members work with one another and with peers, vendors, and other constituent groups.

There are seven practices that we, and our partners at Whitman and Headwaters Health, see as central to the trust-based approach:

  • Making multi-year unrestricted grants

  • Streamlining and simplifying paperwork

  • Doing the homework

  • Soliciting and acting on feedback

  • Engaging in transparent and responsive communication

  • Partnering in the spirit of service

  • Supporting beyond the check

Bear in mind that organizations implement these practices because they purposefully take a trust-based approach. Simply ticking off all seven practices doesn’t mean an organization necessarily has a trust-based mindset.

In this series, which will run bi-weekly this Fall and Winter, we will take a closer look at the seven practices. We appreciate the interest and enthusiasm we’ve received about trust-based philanthropy to date. We , look forward to continuing our work thoughtfully and energetically and in partnership with a growing list of funders.

Philip Li