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Donor Engagement that Centers Trust, Relationship-Building, and Political Formation

May 2023

Embodying Solidarity Philanthropy

In early 2022, Mary and David made their first donation to Grassroots International. They decided, from the outset, to join our Leadership Circle: people who make significant financial commitments and multi-year pledges to Grassroots International, recognizing that this helps us build the financial stability we need in order to be able to commit to accompany our partners for the long term.

Mary explains that she and David had been putting money into a Donor Advised Fund (DAF) for years. When they retired they finally had the time to think about what to do with those funds, and so began participating in various donor spaces to learn more about ways to give that were transformative and in alignment with their values. One of the first donor organizing spaces they participated in was a climate justice giving circle with the Network of Engaged International Donors (NEID Global) that was co-led by Grassroots International, which is how they came to learn about our work.

Mary and David feel fortunate to have entered philanthropic spaces at a moment of significant shifts. People with access to wealth were looking critically at the power imbalances that traditional philanthropy was steeped in and had helped to perpetuate, and were shifting to new models of giving that would transform existing power imbalances between donors and those they funded. Through their involvement in NEID Global and similar spaces, Mary and David learned about trust-based giving and knew immediately it was what they wanted their approach to be.

For this reason, they committed to give to Grassroots International in alignment with our praxis of Solidarity Philanthropy. This praxis includes learning about our work by having meetings with our staff and participating in our donor engagement opportunities. Mary explains the benefits of this kind of giving:

We have enjoyed getting to talk to people at Grassroots International and the other organizations we fund to hear what they are doing. We see how urgently it was needed, this type of multi-year funding, and what it has enabled groups to do. When you start on the path (of Solidarity Philanthropy), you see the value of it right away. You really do get a sense of what is happening on the ground in an organization and you definitely form stronger relationships – and more equitable relationships.

In addition to being part of the Leadership Circle, Mary has been actively participating in Grassroots International’s Solidarity Encounters since they were formally launched at the start of 2023. She has told us how these offerings, coupled with the relationship-building she and David had already been doing with us, have transformed her thinking and their approach to giving.

Reflecting on her participation in our Solidarity Encounter on False Solutions and Climate Justice Frameworks, Mary shares,

I loved the way that Nnimmo Bassey (of Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nigeria) framed climate justice as really all struggles against oppression where relations are changed or repaired. That resonated a lot with me. We feel that there is a climate emergency and want to make a difference in that space, but some of the solutions out there are going to do more harm than good…

It definitely will influence the way I evaluate both groups that I am considering from a philanthropic perspective and also my impact investing – declining to get involved in things that are not in keeping with the philosophy of being less extractive and of respecting Indigenous groups. It definitely will stick with me.

Mary gets to the crux of the trust-based relationship that she and David are fostering with Grassroots International:

Hearing from your partners who are on the ground with the best solutions for solving their problems has really helped shape how we give. We want to make sure that is where our money is going, and not some project or solution that we think is a great idea but that doesn’t actually work in that particular location or community.

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