6 Emerging Philanthropy Trends To Track In 2021

2020 was a year unlike any other, and one that left a mark on the social sector. Explore six trends in philanthropy that will continue to make a difference in 2021 and beyond.


The compounding crises in 2020 highlighted and accelerated many trends in philanthropy that have been emerging for years.

Here are six trends in philanthropy that are likely here to stay:

1. Trust-based philanthropy is gaining attention as a crisis solution.

Trust-based philanthropy took center stage in 2020 as nonprofits’ urgent needs prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic meant that funding had to be distributed fast—and without a web of restrictions.

Nearly 800 funders and philanthropy leaders, including GlobalGiving, pledged to ease grant restrictions on nonprofits. The pledge emphasized the tenets of trust-based philanthropy.

“Trust-based philanthropy is an approach that is rooted in power-sharing, equity, humility, transparency, and collaboration.” — Chase Williams, GlobalGiving Disaster Response Program Officer

Trust-based philanthropy allowed disaster response funds like GlobalGiving’s Coronavirus Relief Fund to support Seeding Sovereignty and other nonprofits around the world with unrestricted funding.

“The emphasis on unrestricted funds felt like the essential ‘buoy’ we needed. With those funds, we’ve been able to hire directly within the Indigenous communities we work in to disburse Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and food aid,” Janet MacGillivray, Executive Director of Seeding Sovereignty, said.

2. Participatory grantmaking is helping shift the power.

Participatory grantmaking takes trust-based philanthropy to the next level by actually shifting decision-making power from funders to the individuals and organizations dealing with the issue or problem. The approach emphasizes the thinking “nothing about us without us” and requires deep relationship building, trust, and time from all parties involved.

“From advancing gender equality to seeding local climate solutions, our team works to transfer decision-making power to the people most affected by the problem because they have the best solutions.” — Kelly Wilson, GlobalGiving Program Manager, Girl Fund and Climate Action Fund

The principles of participatory grantmaking and trust-based philanthropy have been gaining recognition as well-defined models for how to shift the power between funders and grantees. 2020’s challenges shined even more light on them.

3. Community-led is challenging the status quo.

The conversation about community-led principles has reached every corner of the sector—from longstanding leaders like USAID that are testing locally led development approaches to emerging organizations like Population Works Africa that are advocating for more equitable models of aid.

But what does community-led philanthropy look like in practice?

GlobalGiving’s Evidence + Learning team set out to answer that pressing question in 2020, and the team’s six research partners developed a self-assessment survey to help determine whether work or organizations are community led.

“Community-led development has local people in the driving seat. It’s focused on addressing the root causes of problems rather than meeting the immediate needs of the community.” — Nkem Akinsoto, Strategy and Innovation for Development Initiative

Here are the first answers from the community-led research.

4. Nonprofits are adapting to virtual programming and fundraising.

Although 2020 was a year marked by physical distance, it was also a year of coming together. As nonprofits adapted to the new normal, more online panels, webinars, and digital learning resources began to emerge online. This philanthropy trend helped foster relationships and connect people with shared goals around the world, and it will likely stick around after the pandemic is over.

“For our project, the quarantine brought the new challenge of shifting most training online, canceling planned camps and seminars, and rethinking financial sustainability.” — Liliana Botnaru, EcoVisio

While many feared that donations would dip amid the economic downturn, 2020 ended up being a record-breaking year of generosity. An incredible $2.47 billion was donated to US nonprofits by a reported 34.8 million people on #GivingTuesday alone, a 29% increase in participation from 2019.

5. Giving now is gaining traction.

As the net worths of a select few skyrocketed in 2020, pressure mounted for billionaires to take action on their pledges to give away their wealth. Established initiatives like the Giving Pledge and new approaches like Forbes’ focus on actualized giving might inspire billionaires to give sooner and go further with their philanthropic efforts.

Some high-net-worth individuals, including Jack Dorsey, MacKenzie Scott, and Sara Blakey, have already taken the initiative. GlobalGiving partnered with the Spanx By Sara Blakely Foundation in March to distribute a $5 million gift from Sara as the economic effects of the pandemic were beginning to unfold. The collaboration made it possible to award flexible grants to more than 1,000 small, women-owned businesses across the United States and its territories.

“My hope is that this gift will help alleviate some of the pressures caused by this horrible pandemic. Twenty years ago, I started Spanx with $5,000 in savings, and I see this as a time to pay it forward.” — Sara Blakely

6. Conversations about racial justice are becoming actionable plans.

As the United States’ reckoning with racial injustice continues, many are calling upon philanthropy to play a more actionable role in combating inequality. If 2020 was a year of building frameworks and having conversations, then 2021 might be a year of truly shifting the power.

Many organizations recognized that this work needs to be done and are pushing forward with new ways to identify, name, and address how philanthropy contributes to structural racism.

“No one can eradicate the oppression of Black Americans and people of color on their own, but it’s also true that no solution will work without participation from all of us.” — Alix Guerrier, GlobalGiving CEO

As we created our 2020 impact report, “Together, Apart: How The GlobalGiving Community Confronted 2020,” we saw these trends operate in unison. We look forward to applying our learnings to build on these philanthropy trends in 2021 until they aren’t trends anymore but simply the way things are done.

Read GlobalGiving’s 2020 impact report, “Together, Apart: How The GlobalGiving Community Confronted 2020,” to see these trends in action.


Featured Photo: Creating Dignified Jobs for 110 Artisans in Kenya by Imani Collective

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