Ingredients and Indicators of Trust: Breaking down the big buzzword

Ingredients and Indicators of Trust: Breaking down the big buzzword. Blue background with white text. Floral pattern in top right and bottom left corners.
Dawn Chirwa, Mary Fifield and Aya Tsuruta
April 13, 2023

Authors inlude Abby Sarmac, in addition to those listed above.  

If, across philanthropy, we are working to build and deepen trust — between funders and grantee partners, board and staff members...between organizations, teams or any two individuals — how do you measure it? How do we know we’re doing it right? 

In a recent conversation at TGP, we landed on the somewhat unsatisfactory answer of, well, maybe we can’t. “There may be some things about human relationships that you just can’t measure,” Senior Advisor Dawn Chirwa shared. “Like love and friendship, trust is something that you feel and experience. When you know, you know.”

As humans we naturally have a hard time with this answer and the uncertainty that it brings (there’s a great article by social psychologist Heidi Grant and EY Chief Learning Officer Tal Goldhamer on why we’re not wired for uncertainty).  So, we set out to see if we could surface some tangible aspects — real-life indicators and ingredients — of trust-building, rooted in both our personal and professional experiences. Here’s what we found:

Examples of Indicators

Being unafraid to show up as your true authentic self


Being unafraid to share bad news, roadblocks or challenges


Connecting with someone in a way that you couldn't before


As we swapped stories on trust-building and reflected on “the how,” we found that this work is largely about getting on the same page with one another and operating on the same footing. Here are some ingredients we explored together that support this.


Examples of Ingredients

Checking our own assumptions and biases


Making space and time to develop shared understanding and meaning


Having clear, shared goals


Examining the structures, norms and roles we're working within


As we broke down the ingredients of trust, we noted that building trust in philanthropy takes work on all levels — the individual, interpersonal, organizational and systemic or structural. It takes time and intention, and it really may just come down to a feeling. So the next time you wonder if your organization is doing trust-building "the right way," try doing a quick check-in with yourself and if you can, with the people around you. And trust that what you feel in your gut is an indicator in and of itself.  


Dawn Chirwa and Abby Sarmac are Senior Advisors at The Giving Practice. Aya Tsuruta is the Marketing and Communications Lead at The Giving Practice. To learn more about our team, visit our team page here

Mary Fifield is the Director of Grantmaking at Cotyledon Fund. 

Brenda Solorzano (mentioned in Dawn's response above) is the Chief Executive Officer of the Headwaters Foundation.


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