Essentially, in a trust-based model of giving, donors embrace three perspectives regarding their support:
- Unrestricted giving, when done through helpful nonprofit partners, offers the best type of philanthropic support to make a difference;
- Helpful nonprofit partners are those who are willing to be transparent and relational with donors, and are consistently learning from those they serve;
- The world is less just and equitable than it could and should be and giving plays a significant role in making the world more so.
This model of giving, of course, has been around since the beginning of capitalistic philanthropy. But, it gained new luster based on the diverse and significant needs which showed themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic and the social justice movements of 2020.
The benefits of trust-based philanthropy are easy to grasp for all nonprofits (i.e., unrestricted giving offers more flexibility; building authentic relationships with donors means longer-term, increased giving; listening and learning regularly means you become more adept at fulfilling your mission, etc.). What too often goes unrecognized, though, is what it takes to build and sustain this model with donors.
Yes, we must be willing to listen. Yes, we must have the intellectual humility to learn. Yes, we must be transparent and relational in creating partnerships with donors.
And we also need to be inspirational educators at heart. We must take what we learn – what we are hearing and seeing from those we serve, those who give, those who research, etc. – and we must chart a path forward. We must make the case. We must cast a vision that involves donors in helping us serve more and serve better.
Too often, nonprofit leaders (be they school, healthcare, university, social nonprofits, foundations, or others) forget that building trust with donors includes being willing to educate them on the critical issues and on the most helpful solutions.
Instead, we too often defer to the donor: “What impact would you like to make?” without first shaping their understanding of the issues at play and proposing solutions.
If we, through a discipline of listening and learning, can’t articulate a clear institutional plan leading to better outcomes for those we serve, why should we expect donors to trust us with significant gifts?