It begins and ends with trust

Jennifer Lentfer

If you want community philanthropy to work, you have to start with trust. Yet many of the elements in funders’ relationship with grantees – evaluations and reporting requirements – are based on scepticism. They have become deep expressions of doubt and mistrust. Granted, it’s not easy to create trust. The history of global development is littered with failure and misunderstanding, and we are all carrying assumptions from our past, even if we’re not aware of it. So how can we build trust? Here are steps to help you as you embark on supporting community philanthropy.

You may have good intentions and be ‘doing everything right’ in your estimation of your partnership. You share all information about your application and reporting requirements. You respond promptly to enquiries. You go on site visits. You’ve developed a good rapport. It doesn’t mean trust exists.

For decades, international assistance has ignored, subsumed, or done harm to already existing mechanisms for mutual accountability at the community level. The result has too often been that money came and went, disappointing both grantmakers and everyday citizens. As I advise programme staff before they visit communities, ‘you don’t just represent our foundation, you represent 50-plus years of failed development projects.’

Accept that you, too, must be trusted

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