Giving Compass' Take:

• PEAK Insight Journal spoke with John Esterle, the Co-Director of The Whitman Institute, about his organization's philosophy of trust-based grantmaking.

• What might other donors learn from The Whitman Institute's emphasis on trust? What role does transparency play?

• Read about how to build more trust between foundations and the American South.

PEAK INSIGHT JOURNAL (PIJ): How does The Whitman Institute think about grant reporting?

JOHN ESTERLE: All of our funding is unrestricted (much of it multi-year) and we do not require formal written reports. Our approach to reporting is that it is primarily about learning and happens organically through conversations with those we support.  These can range from one or two meetings/calls per year to more frequent contacts depending on our relationship with them and what is happening with their work.  We do not require that grantees have a relationship with us but rather it’s an invitation, depending on what makes sense for them and is supportive. If grantees have written reports for other funders they are willing to share with us, we are happy to read them.  And, even though we don’t require them, some of our grantees like submitting a written report to us annually to share their thoughts and learnings from the year.

This approach aligns with our trust-based approach to philanthropy. Nonprofits are drowning in paperwork and we don’t want to add to that burden for them.  Our approach is relational and dialogic and so that makes sense to us as the primary way we learn about our grantees work.

PIJ: Talk a bit about how these conversations happen and how you use what you learn.

JE: Our grantee conversations happen either in person or on the phone with our co-executive directors — myself and/or Pia Infante.  We prefer in person when possible, either at our respective offices or over coffee or lunch.  Sometimes we initiate the conversations and sometimes they do.  It varies from grantee to grantee.

For us, these conversations inform both our understanding about the work of our grantee partners (both their successes and their challenges) and our sense of how we can be of help to them.

Especially with our multi-year partners, our conversations give us ideas about how we can best be of support beyond the check – and they give us a better sense of how to talk about their work with our board and other funders. The benefits are that it invites a more authentic learning and dialogue process with our partners and frees up their time to concentrate on their mission. What we hear from our grantee partners is that they deeply appreciate this approach.

Read the full interview with The Whitman Institute's John Esterle about trust-based grantmaking by Jessica Bearman and Elizabeth Myrick at PEAK Insight Journal.