IPA Blog

IPA Members Build Authentic Relationships Through Trust

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Trust-based philanthropy, as defined by the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project, functions as an approach to giving that addresses the inherent power imbalances between funders, nonprofits, and the communities they serve. At its core, trust-based philanthropy is about redistributing power—systemically, organizationally, and interpersonally—in service of a healthier and more equitable nonprofit ecosystem. 

Trust-Based Philanthropy Project calls for organizations to:

  1. Give 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. 

These six principles overlap and together encompass the work necessary to foster more productive and informative relationships.

Last summer, in the early months of the global pandemic, Indiana Philanthropy Alliance (IPA) members put more of these principles into practice. Those that had fostered trusted community relationships over time found that they were better positioned to respond to the crisis. This response came in the form of rapid grants to get money out the door quickly, weekly meetings to share information and connect resources, an influx of unrestricted funding, and even loosening or eliminating reporting requirements.

Even before the pandemic flipped us into crisis aversion mode, philanthropy in Indiana was becoming more intentional about listening to communities, acting on feedback, and offering support beyond the check. 

Welborn Baptist Foundation Improves Relationships & Reports 

Based in Evansville, Indiana, and servicing 14 counties in the Tri-State region, Welborn Baptist Foundation decided well before the pandemic to emphasize relationships, collaboration, and impact, folding them into their focus strategy. 

Recently, the Welborn Baptist Foundation made changes to their reporting requirements to better support their grantees—who they prefer to call partners. Rather than requiring lengthy written reports, the private foundation or a third-party consultant has a conversation with the partner in-person or virtually. 

It’s been two full grant cycles since Welborn Baptist Foundation implemented these relationship-based funding changes. Liz Tharp, learning and impact officer at Welborn Baptist Foundation, said that before this switch, “the information and context that we were missing out on was huge.” 

By holding these conversations with the grantee and a third-party consulting group, Welborn Baptist Foundation attains “a better understanding of the communities that our nonprofits are serving,” says Tharp. 

“The extent to how a relationship-based approach has been helpful to the nonprofits we serve is greater than expected,” explains Tharp. Grantee partners have used the final report cultivated through a discussion with the objective consulting group as part of their annual report. This report helps serve as fundraising and donor cultivation tools, and relieves much of the time and money necessary to create such a document. 

Marcia Lambert, executive director of the Isaiah 1:17 Project—a nonprofit in its second grant period with Welborn Baptist Foundation—advocates that “relationship matters.” She remarks how its “amazing when you have community partners that are financing you, but it becomes truly next level when they are also making you feel like it’s a true partnership. Welborn takes it this step further. They want you to succeed and provide uplift to your community.”

Lambert also attests to the value of having a third-party step in to evaluate and provide perspective. The hour-long conversation with the consulting group following the end of a two-year grant with Welborn was designed to provide a holistic approach that makes the nonprofit’s life easier. 

Rather than have to spend days drafting an annual report, the Isaiah 1:17 Project was able to reuse content from this final conversation and the report created by the consulting group. Lambert notes that this objective perspective gave additional credibility to her organization and was “truly worth its weight in gold.”

Central Indiana Community Foundation’s Focus on Equity

There is an inherent power imbalance between funders and nonprofits, with funders calling the shots on how—and how many—resources are allocated to the work. Being a trust-based funder requires continuous examination of the implications of power imbalances and biases in our day-to-day decision making. 

To confront systemic inequities in the way wealth is disseminated, Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF) has been focused on building authentic relationships within historically underinvested neighborhoods. 

During a recent IPA program on trust-based philanthropy, CICF’s Vice President of Opportunity, Equity and Inclusion Pamela Ross said, “we have been in the space of trying to understand ‘what do we need to do to be more equitable in our practices’ and ‘what do we need to do to build better relationships.’”

After 100 years of existence, CICF announced its new mission in 2018 to focus on equity and to create neighborhoods and environments that empower people, change unfair systems, and dismantle institutional racism to make their community a place where everyone can thrive.

One big way CICF is working to do this is through Community Ambassadors, which are residents representing specific under-appreciated neighborhoods with the opportunity to grow over time. 

Ambassadors are highly valued and significantly influence the grantmaking process and leadership decisions at the foundation. As a result, CICF is building deep relationships with residents, supporting community-based assets, and providing resources to neighborhoods for community-driven projects.

Over the past three years, CICF has partnered with their Ambassadors to really understand what is going on within the community. And because of these partnerships, CICF didn’t have to travel far during COVID to know how to support communities hardest hit. Ambassadors were even empowered with funds in hands to purchase medicine, support transportation, and to buy food for their neighbors.

To further include their community’s voice in decision making, the foundation asks those applying for funds to share who in the community is asking for the work and about the nonprofit’s pathway to making a change. With these questions, they are challenging organizations to look deeper into their work and are working to make a difference on targeted populations.

“We can no longer give funds in the same way and fulfill our mission without asking questions and challenging grantees to answer these questions,” says Ross. “Our community depends on us to use our power and influence in a way they haven’t been able to do, especially communities of color.”

Continuing the Work

An ecosystem of trust-based philanthropy requires a commitment to examining the structural and relational conditions of the nonprofit sector. This involves a conscientious examination of existing inequity, and a willingness to take concrete steps to rebalance these power imbalances. To learn more about trust-based philanthropy and the six key principles that put trust-based values into action click here.

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