SmartSimple Blog

Is the Future of Philanthropy Trust-Based?

Posted by Stirling Myles on Sep 26, 2019 9:17:23 AM
 Photo by Rawpixel Photo by Rawpixel

In anticipation of their upcoming presentation at SmartSimple’s ELEVATE San Diego conference in October, we sat down with Zia Maumenee, Grants Manager of Headwaters Foundation, and Malcolm Klotz, Founder of Re-Solved, to learn more about their trust-based philanthropy model and how they leveraged SmartSimple’s technology to carry it out.

Trust-based philanthropy is not just a passing fad, it can be a powerful and impactful approach to supporting communities. The team at Montana-based Headwaters Foundation streamlined the administrative grant processes by using SmartSimple and adapting it to the Trust-Based Philanthropy model with success.With more than $100 million in assets, the Headwaters Foundation works side-by-side with Western Montanans to improve the health of their communities. “At Headwaters, we trust that by listening to the people living in Western Montana, we can strengthen community-led solutions that improve the lives of children and families. Trust-Based Philanthropy is a movement involving foundations across the country to rethink philanthropy,” says Zia Maumenee, Grants Manager of Headwaters Foundation. 

Trust-Based Philanthropy reimagines traditional funder-grantee relationships by naming and attempting to shift power. “We believe our work will be more successful, rewarding, and effective if we approach it as an ongoing partnership rather than a one-time transaction,” says Maumenee.

For all of Headwaters’ work, trust flows from the board to the CEO, then from the CEO to the staff. The staff trusts the community and so does the board. This circle of trust informs all of Headwaters’ work. They do not have board dockets for grant reviews. Either the team does the work on the grant application for the grantee, or they have a simple streamlined approach to funding. An example of this is through the GO! Grants program. Headwaters Foundation’s year-round GO! (General Operations) Grants program funds organizations that are mission-aligned instead of focusing on specific programs. 

GO! Grants applications take an average of 45 minutes to apply, 20 minutes to approve and 2 weeks to send the check. This granting approach was made possible due to the automation of SmartSimple. 

Here are some highlights to Headwaters’ work:

Vastly improved time savings between approval and disbursement of fund:

Zia worked with Malcolm Klotz, Founder of Re-Solved to build a scorecard in the system that integrates grant criteria and calculations with the click of a button. 

Due diligence is on the grantmakers end, not the grantseekers

“We don’t need anything except a verification from the IRS that the nonprofit is tax-exempt,” says Maumanee. “Then we do the homework, the due diligence.” Headwaters is breaking down barriers of administrative red-tape while lessening the burden on the grantees to prove themselves for funds.

More hands-on investment in communities

The amount of administrative time saved enables Zia and Headwaters to take on more work and be more strategic in their processes. With the success of GO! Grants, they’re able to build relationships and become better partners, spending more time engaging with their communities and grantees.


 Photo by Rawpixel Photo by Rawpixel


Zia and the Headwaters Foundation are leading examples of how to effectively fund programs quickly while maximizing impact in the communities they are serving. They put trust in the nonprofits and engage in meaningful relationships to improve the health of their communities.

SmartSimple worked with Headwaters to implement a streamlined & simplified tool to grantmaking aiding in their mission to put the grantees at the center of their work. 

Zia and Malcolm will demonstrate and go more into depth about their intensive and rewarding process at ELEVATE San Diego.

Topics: ELEVATE 2019, Foundations, Conference, Grantmaking