In the Face of a Pandemic, Foundations Adopt Trust-based Principles

March 23, 2020 //

Last week, in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, several of the nation’s top foundations pledged to ease or eliminate restrictions on grants, reduce asks of grantees, and support and uplift the voices of grantee partners.

From the pledge: “By acting together to provide flexibility to our grantee partners, we believe we can help them move their essential work forward powerfully and confidently in this critical moment.”

It’s way past time and unfortunately, it took an egregious, unprecedented national and global crisis for this to happen. For some time, The Whitman Institute, along with a handful of other foundations, has been listening to our nonprofit partners about the need to fundamentally reimagine funder-grantee relationships. Relationships built on trust help us shift power dynamics and create healthier, more resilient and effective nonprofits.

Our grantee partners helped us coin the term “trust-based philanthropy” to describe a set of principles that represent our values for equity and collaboration. Now, the Trust-based Philanthropy Project carries it forward, with the support of several like-minded funders.

Thursday’s pledge from the funder community is needed at this moment more than ever. Nonprofits are being hit hard by this crisis and need all the support funders can provide. With greater flexibility and resources, organizations can choose how best to meet the needs of their communities, without jumping through reporting hurdles.

But at TWI we’re wondering, what happens after the pledge?  How do our words translate to embodied action?  How do we shift culture, policy, structures to demonstrate these values for power-sharing and equity?

While TWI’s current trajectory is still to spend out and close down in 2022, we will be spending the next 18 months on creating space for conversation around these questions, in the hope that trust-based philanthropy becomes the norm.

You can read more about the foundation pledge from the Chronicle of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Quarterly.

The Council on Foundations is also hosting a webinar on Thursday, March 26 about the pledge.