Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, Headwaters Foundation, and The Whitman Institute Launch the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, Headwaters Foundation, and The Whitman Institute Launch the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project

January 22, 2020, San Francisco, CA - Today, the Headwaters Foundation, Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, and The Whitman Institute announce the launch of the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project, a five-year, peer-to-peer funder initiative with the goal of bringing greater vulnerability, transparency, and humility to philanthropy.

Philanthropy is experiencing a cultural moment of power-reckoning, with more and more foundations coming to terms with the entrenched imbalances they’ve inherited, created, or inadvertently helped sustain. Left unchecked, these power dynamics get exacerbated by policies and practices that require nonprofits to jump through hoops to prove their worth, year after year. The Trust-Based Philanthropy Project builds upon existing efforts to bring more equity and accountability to philanthropy, offering concrete steps for funders to build radically different grantee relationships through trust-based practices and behaviors.

Over the next five years, the Project aims to make trust-based philanthropy the norm rather than the exception. Key to this shift will be collaborations with regional associations and other philanthropic-serving organizations that will help seed and build regional learning communities around trust-based philanthropy. Thus far, the Project has cultivated an informal network of more than a dozen foundations that have signed on to publicly share their experiences with the approach and aid others in adopting trust-based practices.

The Project’s Steering Committee—helmed by leaders from Durfee Foundation, Headwaters Foundation, Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, Thousand Currents, and The Whitman Institute—will guide the overall strategy of the Project, with the leadership of a Project Director and ongoing input from grantee partners and foundation colleagues. And thanks to multi-year commitments from the Whitman Institute, Satterberg Foundation, Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, Headwaters Foundation, Durfee Foundation, and General Service Foundation, the Project has raised enough money to sustain for the full five-year term.

Pia Infante is co-executive director of The Whitman Institute, a San Francisco-based grantmaking organization that named the approach based on feedback from grantee partners in 2014, and has been advocating for its adoption ever since.

“Philanthropy is operating in a wider social context where economic and environmental inequities are rapidly accelerating—with poor, indigenous, migrant, trans, and black communities bearing the brunt. Do we have the courage and humility to see how philanthropy might be perpetuating these problems even as we fund to alleviate them? Instead of clinging to what we can control, we can meet this overwhelmingly complex moment with curiosity, openness, and a willingness to adapt.” - Pia Infante


Philip Li was a nonprofit executive director before becoming president of New York-based Robert Sterling Clark Foundation. He’d been on the receiving end of non-trusting funder relationships, so he knew when it came to supporting grantees to create a vibrant New York City, he didn’t want to repeat the same funder behaviors he’d experienced.

“Nonprofits, foundations, and communities are all part of the same ecosystem, and we all have roles to play. As funders, we often step into that power without asking ourselves—how can we support our visionary nonprofit and community partners while centering their experiences, wisdom, and leadership?” – Philip Li


Because this approach recognizes relationships and power, it can be complex and messy. But within the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project’s community of grantmakers, there’s a strong value placed on openly sharing stories, missteps, and lessons...

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