Photo: The Vital Importance of Trust

Trust in Philanthropy: Part One — The Vital Importance of Trust

Posted on January 18, 2021 by John Ferguson, TPF Fellow 2020/21
Editor's Note: Continue reading John Ferguson's blog series:

Trust is the most fundamental element of any successful relationship. When trust is present, so much becomes possible. But how is trust built? Brick by brick, stone by stone, conversation by conversation. We apply this logic almost every day when it comes to our relationships with friends, family, partners, coworkers, and many others. What could be possible if we applied this same logic to philanthropy?

Recently, I had the privilege of participating with a small select cohort of philanthropic professionals within the Remote Learning Series offered through Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO). Each week, we thoughtfully discussed important topics, including collaboration, capacity building, learning, and evaluation with presenters and experts in the field. But for me, the topic of community-driven philanthropy was especially meaningful. Within that conversation, I was reintroduced to an emerging approach within the philanthropic sector: trust-based philanthropy.

While discussing trust-based philanthropy, it became clear that how The Patterson Foundation (TPF) works is eerily similar. It also became evident that my values and views on philanthropy merged perfectly within the fundamental elements of that approach. No wonder I feel right at home at TPF.

At TPF, it is commonly said that “change happens at the speed of trust.” If funders across philanthropy were to approach their investments through trust rather than tradition, what would be the result? I would argue it would likely be a more closely-knit relationship between funder and grantee based on trust from both sides. And if that were true, the efficiency and efficacy of the work by grantees could improve dramatically. Imagine if there were more frequent conversations and a true partnership instead of quarterly or annual reports. Imagine if power was shared and collaboration was the norm. If every aspect of the funding process were transparent and equitable. If funders were innately curious. These ways of organizational being are the fundamental elements of trust-based philanthropy.

There are six principles within the trust-based philanthropy project's approach, each of which is critical to its success:

  1. Provide Multi-Year, Unrestricted Funding
  2. Do the Homework
  3. Simplify and Streamline Paperwork
  4. Be Transparent and Responsive
  5. Solicit and Act on Feedback
  6. Offer Support Beyond the Check
While TPF works in unique ways outside of the traditional funding and grantmaker models, there are quite a few common threads and themes within TPF’s values and its approach to philanthropy that mesh beautifully with the principles of trust-based philanthropy. Most notably, how TPF works with others to strengthen their impact by:
  1. Understanding that resources and expertise beyond the gift provide value.
  2. Being accessible and engaged with others.
  3. Striving to learn as we collaborate and share successes and challenges. 
Another clear overlap is found in TPF’s approach to collaboration. Grounded in the importance of trust as a required element for collaboration, TPF also leans heavily on the five characteristics of alignment critical to success: leadership, willingness, readiness, capacity, and culture, or LWRCC for short. When LWRCC is fully present on top of well-developed trust between all collaborators, the magic truly happens. If something feels a bit off, likely one of the LWRCC wheel spokes is not functioning properly and is hindering progress.

And underpinning it all is the concept of shared aspirations—approaching complex issues not as barriers to overcome or problems to address but rather from a space of creativity where we always seek to discover what could be possible.

TPF values and approaches often mirror the fundamental principles of trust-based philanthropy. Throughout this series, I will explore how they intersect and what it could mean for the future of the philanthropic sector should it become the operational norm, instead of the rare exception.

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