When I arrived, the receptionist told me that the funder was running behind schedule. Her assistant ushered me to her office. I waited, and waited, and waited, rehearsing my carefully planned talking points in my head. The funder finally arrived 45 minutes later, with an air of distraction and a hurried apology. She leaned against her desk, standing, with her arms crossed. “What brings you in today?” she asked, checking her watch.

In that instant, all of my hopes were dashed. With her standing over me, I felt myself crumple. The one-hour discussion I had planned turned into a rushed 15-minute pitch. I don’t even remember the words that came out of my mouth. I was demoralized.

Many nonprofit leaders I’ve spoken with have shared similar stories. Funders who don’t reply to emails from grantees they are actively funding. Funders who refuse to cover general operating expenses. Funders who require thick applications and lengthy interviews for tiny grants. Funders who want to have conversations for months — even years — asking for guidance and “picking our brains” without ever offering support. Funders who make last-minute requests that derail staff for days.

At best, this dynamic causes stress and strain on nonprofits and the leaders who run them. At worst, these common practices inhibit the ability of a nonprofit to remain focused on its work and intended impact.

In fact, a 2018 study by the Open Road Alliance revealed that nearly half of the barriers that undermine nonprofit impact are created by — you guessed it — funders.

How is this so? When a nonprofit’s time and energy are directed toward meeting funder demands, its innovation and creativity are channeled not into maximizing impact, but into pleasing funders and securing its next check.

Six Core Practices of Trust-Based Philanthropy

The Trust-based Philanthropy Project has identified six core practices that contribute to more effective philanthropic partnerships and a more equitable, resilient, and just nonprofit sector. These practical recommendations should be seen as part of a holistic cultural and structural approach rooted in values of humility, collaboration, and redistributing power.

  1. ‍Give multiyear, unrestricted funding
  2. Do your homework
  3. Simplify and streamline paperwork
  4. Be transparent and responsive
  5. Solicit and act on feedback
  6. Offer support beyond the check

Read the full article about the cost of distrust by Shaady Salehi at Chandler Foundation.