Philanthropy: What’s trust got to do with it?

14 Jun 2023


Ogo Chukwudi, Project Associate at TrustAfrica & 2022 #ShiftThePower Fellow

I ventured into the community philanthropy space working as a Project Associate at the Kiisi Trust Fund, a donor-advised fund managed by TrustAfrica on behalf of the Trustees of the Kiisi Trust Fund (in 2020, the Kiisi Trust Fund became an independent entity now known as the Kiisi Trust Foundation). At the time, the Kiisi Trust Fund used a participatory grantmaking model and an advisory council as part of its governance structure to identify and make grants for the benefit of the Ogoni people, a community in Rivers State, Nigeria.

I loved working at the community level because it created a natural environment for community partners and other stakeholders, including the donor (the Kiisi Trust Fund) to have candid conversations on development initiatives and to begin rebuilding trust in an environment still immersed in conflict. But a problematic dynamic still existed, and it was defined by power imbalances. Traditional development structures had shaped and continued to shape how groups interacted with each other. The real question at the time was: how do I work with community stakeholders or representatives without imposing myself or the power I carried as the funder?

One of the things I struggled with early on when I started to understand the #ShiftThePower movement was the concept of “trust.” The idea was strange to me; during discussions around the concept, I asked if it was genuinely possible to trust that an organization could do the work independently without being held to so many checks and due diligence processes.

“How do I work with community stakeholders or representatives without imposing myself or the power I carried as the funder?”

The lack of trust stemmed from my previous experience with some of the partners I had worked with. In my work, I had to critically check and ensure that an organization would do what had initially been agreed upon. When reviewing a partner’s report, if I found something that went against our policy, we reworked the grant and reallocated finances to create a new financial process for the organization. A process that enforced compliance. Negotiating with the partner on these issues was not a great experience for me because it sometimes involved hesitance and resistance from the partners’ side. They viewed us as inflexible and dictatorial, but on our side, we saw significant compliance concerns that needed to be resolved.

Where does one draw the line? Is the relationship fostered with the grantee more important than compliance requirements? Do you use the moment as a “teachable moment” to strengthen “capacity building”, both for the partner and the donor? Or do you agree to disagree but quietly decide not to “renew” the grant and the relationship? Nonetheless, I have realized that it takes two to tango and that trust does not happen in a vacuum. Trust is a crucial aspect of philanthropy, as donors want to ensure that their funds are used effectively and efficiently to achieve the intended impact, and grantees want the freedom to do development as they see fit.


This is an excerpt from the blog written by Ogo Chukwudi. The full piece is available on the #ShiftThePower Treehouse

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