The concept of “strategic philanthropy” has been around for a while. While there is some variation in how it is defined, key elements were laid out nearly a decade ago: “outcome-oriented, result-oriented, and effective philanthropy” identifiable by clearly defined goals articulated by donors, pursued through evidence-based strategies that are continuously refined as both donors and grantees monitor outcomes and make adjustments in response.

More recently, the concept of trust-based philanthropy has emerged, and the case for it tends to focus on the worthy goals of shifting power for justice and equity and alleviating the burden on nonprofit leaders. While these approaches do not oppose one another, trust-based philanthropy has been contrasted with strategic philanthropy. This has created a false dichotomy, implying that a trust-based approach is un-strategic—that it is incompatible with an approach that embraces evidence-based strategies and that makes adjustments to improve effectiveness. This in turn has lent itself to the misconception that certain trust-based practices are “lazy” and less likely to produce results. For example, donors have suggested that making unrestricted grants is evidence of not having done enough work to determine the best way those funds should be spent.

Fundamentally, there is nothing un-strategic about a trust-based approach to philanthropy. The key differences lie not in whether to embrace and respond to evidence but rather in whose time, expertise, and experience are valued most. Actually, the core practices that define a trust-based approach to philanthropy can be very strategic and can lead to increased resource efficiency and outsized impact through multiple pathways. It’s an approach that gives nonprofit leaders discretion and empowers them to pivot when the circumstances change, it allows funders to have a deeper understanding of organizational challenges and be responsive to them, and it enables leaders and their teams to spend less time on grants administration and more time on programs. It also enables funders to stay lean themselves by valuing and honoring the expertise of the leaders we fund.

Each of these advantages has come to life vividly in the experience of our respective organizations, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ), a nonprofit that partners with communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities in the South to defend and advance their political, social, and economic rights; and the Woodcock Foundation, a leanly staffed progressive family foundation and a funder of SCSJ.

Read the full article about trust-based philanthropy by Stacey Faella and Ryan Roberson at Stanford Social Innovation Review.