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Trust-Based Philanthropy, Providing Support Beyond the Grant, and Centering Equity

By Abby Rolland

Opportunities to learn about philanthropy abound including through membership organizations like Exponent Philanthropy and publications like Chronicle of Philanthropy. These organizations offer ways to learn about an array of topics like trust-based philanthropy, support beyond the grant, and centering equity efforts. This blog post shares information about each term and its relevance today. And while the terms may be in more frequent use now, the ideas themselves and the implementation of them have been around for a lot longer.

Trust-Based Philanthropy

Trust-based philanthropy, as shared by the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project, “envisions a world where relationships are built on vulnerability, transparency, and humility; where community and nonprofit leaders are valued, supported, and trusted; and where funders bring an awareness of power and equity to their grantmaking.”

The idea of trust-based philanthropy is, unsurprisingly, grounded in trust between funder and grantee partner. While there is an inherent power imbalance between funder and partner (in simple terms, one has the money to distribute and the other is asking for that money), the practices of trust-based philanthropy seek to diminish that power imbalance as much as possible through building mutually accountable relationships.

The Trust-Based Philanthropy Project focuses on building trust in four components of a foundation’s work – culture, structures, practices, and leadership. There are ways in each component to build a more trusting and equitable environment.

In recent years, particularly at the outset of COVID-19, implementing trust-based philanthropy practices has become more popular amongst funders.

To dive deeper into trust-based philanthropy, we encourage you to look into the Project’s website.

Providing Support that Goes Beyond the Grant/Check

Giving support beyond the grant or check is a practice of trust-based philanthropy.

By law, foundations are required to give out a certain percentage (5%) of their endowment annually. This is typically in the form of grants and some administrative costs of the foundation. There are creative ways to structure this giving e.g., providing general operating support (a tenet of trust-based philanthropy), providing grants for organizational capacity building and professional development, and more.

There are also numerous ways for funders to offer other types of support to their partners – through convening, advocacy, amplifying grantee voices in communications, providing capacity building training, etc. By using these tools, funders can utilize their knowledge and connections to contribute to their grantee partners’ efforts. Some of the tools take small amounts of time and resources (like sharing a partner’s story on social media) and some take more time (planning a virtual or in-person convening), but each can benefit a funder’s partners in a variety of ways.

Anecdotally, harp-weaver staff have seen the proliferation of conference sessions, webinars, and virtual series focus on ways that funders give beyond the check. In today’s world, when nonprofits are asked to serve a large number of people, they need all the assistance that they can get. Unbound by shareholders and the responsibility to earn a profit (private businesses) and voters (government), funders can operate in creative ways to help their partners in the community.

Learn more about ways to give beyond the check here.

Incorporating or Centering Equity

While there has been some movement to center equity within the philanthropic sector (and a number of critiques published in recent years about the lack of equity in philanthropy), the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 catalyzed many large and small funders to expend serious efforts to learn more and incorporate or center equity in their work. There is no one framework or way to integrate equity, but however it is done it needs to be consistent with values and aligned with mission.

We have seen and support trends in the philanthropic sector that seek to address inequity in holistic ways. At harp-weaver, equity means inviting everyone, including communities that have been denied access to mainstream systems, to the table on their own terms where they feel accepted, feel empowered to be leaders, and can share their thoughts, experiences, and perspectives.

Entire books can be written about incorporating equity in philanthropy. We’d encourage anyone interested in learning more to check out the equity resources from Exponent Philanthropy or Grantmakers for Effective Organizations.

While they are separately categorized, the three concepts are intricately interwoven in a number of ways.

By providing support beyond the grant, funders can build trusting relationships with their partners and find ways to serve as a resource for them. By building those trusting relationships, a funder is better able to recognize the needs of its partners and the overall sector while also redistributing power. Understanding those needs and the historical ramifications of institutional funding can help funders know how and why it’s necessary to center equity into their work.

For people new to philanthropy and/or funders who are interested in this work but have not pursued it before, learning about these concepts may raise more questions than immediate answers. harp-weaver encourages continual learning; while we are philanthropy professionals with advanced and related degrees and decades of experience, we are always listening and learning more as well.

We are also happy to help answer your questions about trust-based philanthropy, providing support beyond the grant/check, and centering equity – reach out to Abby at with any questions that you may have!


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