Top trends in philanthropy: A conversation with nonprofit leaders

As communities emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, funders can build upon the lessons of the pandemic to better support nonprofits in building resiliency, growing capacity, and continuing the crucial work they do each day in their communities. Key to this healthy dynamic is trust-based partnerships. 

These were the key takeaways from a panel discussion at the North Carolina Community Foundation’s 2023 Affiliate Forum. NCCF’s Director of Community Investment Tyran Hill spoke with Jeanne Tedrow, president and CEO of the NC Center for Nonprofits, Merald Holloway, partnership manager of MDC’s Rural Forward, and Jennifer Tolle Whiteside, NCCF’s president and CEO.  

Tolle Whiteside, Holloway, Tedrow and Hill at 2023 NCCF Affiliate Forum


Nonprofits need thought partners who listen, convene and leverage.  

Nonprofits want funders to continue doing what they did early in the pandemic – taking a step back and asking, “what do nonprofits need and how can we best support them?” 

Listening sessions like those NCCF conducted to inform grantmaking with its NC Healing Communities Fund allow funders to hear the true concerns and learn how to address them directly from the impacted communities.  

The next step after listening is to be a thought partner. Both Holloway and Tedrow identified this as an important change in approach they have seen over the past few years that they hope will continue.  

Holloway shared some concrete ways philanthropy can work as a thought partner: 

Partnership means trust: Nonprofits need unrestricted general operating support. 

Holloway’s experience with the NC Healing Communities Fund and with rural nonprofits across the state reiterated that not only are unrestricted contributions appreciated, they are very much needed and well-used.  

As trust-based philanthropy gains in popularity, funders are increasingly providing general operating support. This helps nonprofits pay employees a living wage and offer benefits like quality health insurance and child care stipends. Tedrow said nonprofits also play a crucial role as employers, especially in rural communities, and building nonprofits’ capacity and strength allows them to complete with other employers.  

“Nonprofits have to think like businesses, but there’s a common tension between addressing pressing needs and building sustainability for the future,” said Holloway. “Funders can help them think about how to be financially sustainable.”  

Holloway lifted this type of dynamic as an example of a healthy partnership and will lead to greater equity and improved trust in the relationship between philanthropy and nonprofits.  

Part of that trust includes lightening the burden of reporting by being clear and transparent about data that should be collected and why. As funders “we need to ensure we’re not asking for too much in return,” said Tolle Whiteside. She named several ways NCCF is doing that, including allowing different types of reporting based on what works best for the nonprofit and ensuring applications are easy and streamlined. 

Partner with nonprofits to inspire action through deep community knowledge and connections. 

Tedrow encouraged funders to get to know their community and be intentional about supporting smaller organizations.   

“One organization cannot do it all,” she said. “Supporting smaller organizations builds capacity and resiliency, especially in rural areas.” 

The benefit of NCCF’s local affiliate network are those community connections, but Tolle Whiteside acknowledged that affiliate foundation boards need broader representation.  

“Each person only really knows ‘their part’ of a county or region,” she said. 

NCCF is thinking about new ways to connect to community and has examined how to build a team that supports and knows communities. For the first time, there are members of NCCF’s leadership team who do not live in the Triangle.  

Tolle Whiteside said NCCF is uniquely positioned to support many nonprofits serving our fellow North Carolinians as the only statewide community foundation in North Carolina. The key to strengthening community roots is the layering of NCCF’s community needs assessments on top of local knowledge and a statewide network to identify needs and inspire action. 

“Our network of local affiliate advisory board members knows the needs and truly cares about what’s happening in their communities,” said Tolle Whiteside. “As we look to the future, I know we will work together to grow and strengthen philanthropy in rural North Carolina.”