Want to be a trust-based philanthropist? Measure impact.

The trust-based philanthropy movement—which encourages donors to create more successful relationships with grantees through more trusting, transparent, and equitable collaboration—is a powerful framework for improving the efficacy of the charitable sector. Its growing popularity is well deserved and exciting.

Among the most popular, yet most misinterpreted, of the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project’s six grantmaking practices is "simplifying and streamlining paperwork." Alas, this guidance doesn’t give red-tape-weary practitioners license to eliminate application or reporting requirements and "trust" (hope) that you're having an impact. Trust-based philanthropy's core values of accountability and learning require some level of data and reporting.

Rather, this is a call to eliminate unnecessary administrative demands. Consider replacing your requests for data about why and how things are done (trust your grantee's expertise!) with far simpler and more useful information about their results. For example, how many people are now housed, food secure, or employed as a result of the program you funded (i.e., its impact)? That is, after all, why you donated in the first place.

The answers will ensure accountability for both you and your grantees while generating crucial insights on what is working well and what isn’t (learning). Neither of you will miss the clog of input, output, and other process-related data requests.

Be prepared, however, for grantees to need assistance in defining and measuring impact. Providing tools or technical assistance ("offer support beyond the check" is another trust-based philanthropy practice) can build this crucial organization capacity, and help your grantees to better attract and retain donors, and continuously improve their program efficacy.

For additional information on measurement, visit “How do you measure impact in a trust-based context” in the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project’s FAQ page.

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