Washington Women's Foundation's Journey with Trust-Based Philanthropy

Washington Women's Foundation's Journey with Trust-Based Philanthropy

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Natasha Lane | Guest Contributor, Content Creator

Aviva Stampfer is the grants and program director at Washington Women’s Foundation (WaWF), where she leads their grantmaking and educational work. She began working with WaWF in 2017 and, after several years with the organization, she saw a significant change in their philanthropy and realized they needed a few new tools for their grantmaking practices. This led her to Philanthropy Northwest’s Trust-Based Philanthropy cohort. 

“I applied to the Trust-Based Philanthropy (TBP) cohort because we were starting to shift as an organization, and we wanted some concrete tools to help us continue that movement forward, building on some of the change work we had already done especially related to the shift in our grant criteria,” Aviva says. “The cohort model was particularly interesting because of the group accountability, the chance to hear other people’s perspective while absorbing this new information and, of course, the chance to build connections with other funders.” 

Philanthropy Northwest’s Trust-Based Philanthropy cohorts launched in 2020 in partnership with the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project. The series was designed for philanthropic leaders interested in advancing equity, shifting power and building mutually accountable relationships between funders and grantees. 

Cohort participants were required to examine their organization through one of four dimensions including culture, structures, leadership or practices before brainstorming implementation strategies. Aviva believes participating in the cohort gave her several significant takeaways that WaWF would utilize when rethinking their grantmaking process. 

“Really, the more I learned about TBP, the more I realized how freeing the model is and how well it aligns with our organizational values.” 

Like many organizations, WaWF has a list of values that guides their grantmaking process and engagement in the nonprofit sector. Some of these values include being in the community, embracing discomfort, advancing equity, sharing power and building relationships. 

“A major value we have is building relationships. That felt core to the Trust-Based Philanthropy practices, starting with the idea that you can’t build a relationship without trust,” says Aviva. “Simultaneously, you can’t build trust without relationships, and you can’t really make changes without relationships. Another value that really aligned with us was sharing power, acknowledging where the power’s coming from, who’s holding it and where it shows up in every interaction. A great way to acknowledge power is through transparency and responsiveness.” 

Maria Kolby-Wolfe, WaWF’s president and CEO, has a long history with Washington’s nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. She transitioned into her new role at Washington Women’s Foundation in February of 2021 and partnered with Aviva in combining Trust-Based Philanthropy practices with WaWF’s traditional grantmaking process. 

“We had to consider where trust was most broken with our grantees.”

She continues, “Our grantees also told us the process was laborious, especially because only a few actually won the award. We decided if an organization made it through our LOI phase, they would receive some money because we’re going to pay people for their labor.” 

For funders considering if Trust-Based Philanthropy is the right approach for an organization, Maria believes they need one specific trait: humility. 

“If you’re a funder interested in using these practices,” Maria says, “prepare to be humbled.” 

Looking for ways to level up your grantmaking and discover the latest in Trust-Based Philanthropy practices? Join us for our new cohort, Grantmakers in Action, a three-session series designed for grantmakers, grant managers and grant operations to deepen your knowledge of the "art of grantmaking," and engage in learning alongside fellow grant staff in our network. Find out more and register on our event webpage.