The Incalculable Value of Trust in Philanthropy

The Incalculable Value of Trust in Philanthropy      

We are hardwired to instantly evaluate others’ trustworthiness.  It was a survival-based, baked-in evolutionary necessity.  And, absolutely nothing has changed in this regard in human nature since we first bonded into small hunting and gathering groups.  The “Cardinal Sin” in these groups was hoarding and eating alone.  Groups that cared and shared more had more offspring and lived longer.  Basic survival depended on transparency and trust. It still does.

This necessitates the shift from transactional philanthropy to relationship-based philanthropy.  Transactional philanthropy means, “I want something from you.”  Relationship-based philanthropy says, “I want the best you…and you are the ultimate arbitrator of your values and what you think is valuable.”   Transactional philanthropy is all about taking, while benefactor-centric philanthropy is all about giving, purpose, elevating ideas, illuminating the best in people.  Colleagues, if we are hard-wired for caring and sharing, then why has philanthropy turned to telling and selling rather than listening, discerning and inspiring?  We have become part of the bustling, get what you can, capitalism at its worst mentality.  We are asking for money and providing little or no value in exchange.  Moreover, when times get tough and money gets tight, many of us return to a default setting of scarcity. So, we issue, “New Rules”, we double down on metrics when we should be doing the exact opposite. Ask yourselves if you as managers are “Snoopervizing employees or SuperAdvising employees.”

More metrics convey fear and they say to our colleagues, “We don’t trust you to rise in the face of challenges, we will mandate you raise in the face of these challenges.” This is not only inconsiderate of colleagues, it flat out rude to benefactors and the understanding what is changing in their lives and lifestyles. This is the time for grace and adjusting down hard metrics and placing emphasis on our core values and well-intentioned engagements with our friends and benefactors.  We don’t plead and implore in these times we get more creative and compelling in these times.

Kindness is attractive.  Important ideas attract. This is a time to decide if you are a leader who is a decision-maker and metric-driven, or if you are a destination maker and a visionary.  Vision is hopeful, a common path is inviting.  There is important, soaked in purpose work that calls us at these times (and frankly at all times) to be our best version of ourselves.  We don’t learn from the good times in our lives, but from adversity in our lives.

So what does this all have to do with trust?  David Horsager in his important book, “The Trust Edge,” says, “Micromanagement is the supreme trust killer.”  It implies fear and scarcity.  Trust has never been built on fear and scarcity.

So what does build trust?  Stephen Covey in his book, “The Speed of Trust,” says that trust is built though Character and Competence, or what we refer to as Ethics and Excellence.  It’s all about doing the right thing and getting the right things done according to Covey. And it’s about positivity which is hopeful yet realistic…remember we have to deliver on our promises here. Covey further said of his father, “My Dad always said, “If you think that the problem is out there, that very thought is the problem.” When we are inclined to talk about problems, difficulties and challenges, we drain the energy of those around us.  When we think in possibilities and aspirations, we create energy. When we talk to benefactors about our needs and needs and needs, we become needy, and no one makes gifts to needy organizations.  In fact, organizations don’t have needs…the people we serve may have needs.  Think our organizations in terms of how gifts are given to humanity through us and not because of us. This sets the high investment worthy bar of our work.  It builds trust.

According to Harris and Gallup polls the number one characteristic employees want to see in their leader is integrity.  Integrity is built on a strong base of core values.  Integrity is trust. Know your personal and institutional values; carve them on your walls.  “Know your values and make your decisions based on them,” says Horsager.

This is a time to double down on values that promote trust.  Not command and control, but on grace and empathy for each other, and especially for our benefactors.  It is simply the right thing to do, and the smart thing to do in both the short and the long run.  It builds and reinforces trust.  In our 60+ years in the fields of philanthropy, we have seen the return in benefactors’ lives and in their commitment to our institutions.


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