Our Approach

Trust-Based Philanthropy

The world of philanthropy has been undergoing a transformative shift in recent years, with an increasing emphasis on equitable grantmaking practices that prioritize long-term impact and community empowerment. Trust-based philanthropy, a vital concept in this shift, seeks to rebalance power dynamics between funders and grantees, and foster stronger relationships and more effective investments. It’s a practice we started embracing back in 2018, and fully committed to in 2024 with the adoption of our latest strategic plan.

What is trust-based philanthropy?

Trust-based philanthropy is an approach to charitable giving that emphasizes transparency, collaboration and shared power between funders and grantees. In traditional grantmaking, funders develop the terms, and grantees comply. Trust-based philanthropy, however, encourages a more collaborative relationship, where both parties work together to define goals, measure progress, and share lessons learned. We invite you to learn more about trust-based philanthropy and the trust-based philanthropy project here.

Trust-based grantmaking at La Crosse Area Community Foundation

Committing to a trust-based grantmaking approach requires us to be in a state of constant bettering. We know our newly released competitive grant programs aren’t perfect, but they also won’t be stagnant. We know there is more work to be done and the steps we’re taking today are paving the way for us to be the best version of LACF for our community tomorrow. Here are the ways LACF is embracing a trust-based approach in our competitive grantmaking programs today.

  • Soliciting & receiving feedback: We’re actively soliciting feedback from our constituents through focus groups, surveys, and a new quarterly nonprofit networking group. We are striving to evolve our processes and programs for grantees, with grantees. While our staff have lived experience in nonprofits of all sizes and missions, we want ongoing feedback from grantees to understand the unique and changing needs of our community’s nonprofit sector.
  • Simplifying & stream lining paperwork: We are doing our best to right-size applications and follow-up expectations with award amounts. We’ve estimated and posted the amount of time each application will take so folks know what they’re getting into and can be intentional with their very limited time. We know nonprofit staff have many competing priorities and we don’t want to ask grantees to fill out documentation that isn’t useful to their request or utilized intentionally by us in evaluation.
  • Being transparent & responsive: We are centering transparency by doing our best to provide clear instructions, timelines, eligibility requirements, evaluation processes, and post-award expectations all before beginning an application. We’ve also expanded our team to include a Grants Specialist who has dedicated time to offer support and technical assistance through the entire application process more responsively. This means our Impact Director (formerly Grants Manager) can focus on relationship building in order to fairly advocate for all applicants in the evaluation process.
  • Doing the homework: We’re making efforts to identify and connect with all nonprofits doing meaningful work in our community. By learning more about organizations and their work, we’re aiming to support mutually beneficial collaboration between all of us to better meet the needs of our donors and grantees. La Crosse County has nearly 1,300 nonprofit organizations, and while we’re not even close to connecting with each of them yet, we’re working to build knowledge around who they are and what they do. We want to be well-informed and help our entire community be better connected.
  • Giving multi-year, unrestricted funding: Our new Capacity Building Grants Program includes at least two years of funding, paired with significant ongoing support including coaching, training, and access to other resources. Up to 70% of capacity building grant awards can be utilized for ongoing operational expenses. This is intended to allow “breathing room” as organizations work toward capacity building efforts.

We’re excited to continue listening, learning, and finding ways to connect us all to create a more vibrant, generous, and inclusive La Crosse area.