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What is Trust-Based Philanthropy?

The Headwaters Staff

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Headwaters Foundation is doing philanthropy differently by implementing a model called trust-based philanthropy. Using trust as a starting point, we are able to break down the traditional power dynamic between funder and grantee and create a collaborative environment that supports listening, learning and the ability to be nimble.

So often traditional philanthropy requires a lot of heavy lifting from grantees to apply for and win grants. Our model takes the burden off of grantees and puts it squarely on our shoulders where we believe it belongs. We won’t ask organizations to respond to twice yearly calls for proposals with epic, time-consuming grant applications, write letters of inquiry or produce in-depth extensive reports when their grant comes to an end.

We will ask organizations to sit down, tell us about their successes and challenges, and brainstorm creative ways to build resiliency for children and families. We’ll ask what them what they think because we want to know what’s worked and what hasn’t over the years not so we can grade anyone’s performance but so we all work together to provide better services and programs for families and children.

We will do our homework. Relying on research and data, we’ll come to the conversation prepared but ready to hear everyone’s perspective. The onus of due diligence is on us to know the organizations we serve and their work so we’ll ask good questions and be transparent. We are approaching philanthropy in this way so that organizations in our region can get back to doing good on-the-ground work.

We’ve simplified and streamlined the grantmaking process so that applications are quick and organizations get money in a timely manner. We don’t believe in holding onto our resources any longer than we have to when they could be out in our communities making a difference.

The organizations we serve are central to our work. We simply can’t achieve our vision of a healthy and thriving western Montana without the folks across our region who do the everyday work of meeting the needs of children and families in our communities.

We know that our vision requires a long view. This takes time and trying things that sometimes don’t work. We do not expect perfection from the organizations we serve. We only ask that they communicate openly with us when problems arise (and when they don’t!) so we can problem solve and achieve more together.

Trust-based philanthropy means that we fund organizations at every level of their work from capacity-building and operational support to leadership and learning. We believe unrestricted, multi-year commitments allow organizations to be creative, adaptive and innovative. This type of funding also allows us all to think strategically instead of constantly putting out fires.

We believe this model will allow us to show significant impact over time, that by working together, we will one day realize a healthy and thriving western Montana. And we think you’re going to love it.