Building Trust with Your Funders: Bold Conversations

Building trust is THE relationship priority and the global pandemic has created some new opportunities for important conversations with donors. Put up your hand if you’ve noticed an increased commitment from funders to give either more dollars, unrestricted dollars, or both in response to issues ranging from pandemic support to equity and redressing power imbalances. Yup, I thought so!

image by steve harvey via unbounce

I’m seeing a new interest and openness from funders to discuss some of the thorny big-picture issues around philanthropy and I think having these conversations can result in even stronger donor relationships. Here’s some “trust-based” conversations you could initiate with your long-time donors (especially foundations) and related resources to help you along.

Whether funding has to be restricted

This is normally an untouchable topic for fundraisers but the Ford Foundation and others now support the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project. It encourages big funders to reduce reporting requirements and restrictions on how funds should be used. Ask your favourite funder if they have heard of the project and how their board feels about its purpose. If they say they agree with some of the recommendations, follow up to find out how that might be applied to your next grant request.

How foundation funders feel about disbursement minimums

Just like politics at an awkward family dinner, this topic is usually off limits. But since the pandemic, many charities and foundations have questioned whether we should raise the minimum disbursement requirement. One initiative sparked by the pandemic is Give 5 who advocate for raising the Canadian foundation disbursement to 5% from the current 3.5 (it’s already 5% for US foundations).

Even a tiny increase would mean big bucks, given that Canada’s public and private foundations hold $84.4 billion in endowed assets! Again, why not ask your favourite funder if they have discussed this issue at the staff or board level, what their current percentage is (many give more than the minimum now), and whether they would consider increasing it.

How they’re approaching equity, diversity, inclusion and reconciliation

Groups like Philanthropic Foundations Canada are finally getting serious about EDIR issues, triggered in part by #BlackLivesMatter. “Approaches such as participatory grant making, ‘listening for good’ and inclusive governance are drawing attention. The philanthropy world in the U.S. and in other countries is becoming more aware of the general demand in society for more inclusion and for a breaking down of barriers between funders and their community partners.”

What does the board makeup of your top funders look like through an EDIR lens? Your own charity is actively engaging on these issues (I hope) so how about sharing resources with your funders, asking them what they are doing, and perhaps even creating new funding opportunities to address issues together?

Whether funders consider issues such as reparation regarding the origins of their funds

This one makes conversations around things like “green-washing” feel like a walk in the park! There’s nothing quite like taking a cheque with one hand and reminding your funder that their endowment was built on the back of slavery. But many foundations are already having this conversation and I think it provides an opportunity for increased understanding and perhaps even an opportunity for charities to help funders do the right thing and correct past wrongs.  

Good luck, go forward and be bold!

About siobhanaspinall

About Siobhan Aspinall: I am a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), passionate about the environment, social causes and surfing. I have been fundraising in Vancouver, Canada for over 16 years and love working with people who have a fear of fundraising. Call me for help developing a first-time fundraising plan, starting up a major gifts program, writing a case for support, or anything else that's keeping you awake at night! Please find me on linkedin or facebook and tell me what you'd like to see in future posts! : ) Photo Credit (sanddollar header): Minette Layne via Compfight cc
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1 Response to Building Trust with Your Funders: Bold Conversations

  1. vivwalker says:

    Hi Siobhan!

    I hope all is well with you. I wanted to share two quick thoughts. 1. A friend works for a salmon foundation. I really wonder about legacy gifts for a resource that has an immediate need and might be long gone before those gifts come about. 2. I am taking a break from the board of the Chilliwack Museum. I was doing an on-boarding for our four new directors. We purposely recruited members who don’t look like our existing members (younger, for one thing!) and who have a variety of experiences. When I was explaining our funding, I mentioned that two of the foundations we get money from each year are slamdunks because the applications are so simple. One of our new members interrupted me to ask why I considered it a slam dunk. I explained the mission alignment and the simplicity of their application. He said his group had asked them three times for money but had been refused and pointed out that our ED and I both have strong training in fundraising, but grassroots groups have inequities that block them from even asking for that money. It’s a very good point!

    Hope all is well with you! Viv >

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