Ground Truthing in Philanthropy

ground truth (noun)
1. information provided by direct observation as opposed to information provided by inference

A few years ago, our team learned the term ground truth. It was referenced in forest management work as a way to ensure that data and stories are tested in the truth that is on the ground.

This term has now made it into many aspects of our work. It is aligned with our belief that those closest to the work are the ones closest to the solutions. If we only rely on data, stories and perspectives from one sector of the community (such as social media), we might not be aware of what is actually happening on the ground.

Oftentimes when meeting a community member and potential donor, we encounter perspectives that are different from what we are experiencing on the ground. For example:

“Nothing is happening in housing!”

Ground truth: Since Mountain Housing Council began in 2017, our partners have facilitated nearly 500 new housing units in our community. Additionally, Landing Locals, a social enterprise for which TTCF provided seed funding, reports housing over 500 renters. While it is not nearly enough for what our workforce needs, we have new regional solutions coming online to increase our pace!

“The work in the forest is too big for philanthropy. This is the responsibility of the public agencies.”

Ground truth: Yes and no. Yes, the state has increased funding available for forest management and restoration projects, but there is still a role for philanthropy at the local level. Our experience in facilitating the $2M CAL FIRE grant has taught us that we are more competitive with local philanthropy; and oftentimes public funding needs support from local organizations like TTCF’s Forest Futures to distribute those funds.

“Our mountain community does not have enough mental health resources.”

Ground truth: Over the past several years, our Community Collaborative of Tahoe Truckee (CCTT) program has brought together various organizations that provide mental health support in order to map the strengths and gaps in the behavioral health system. With funding from a generous private foundation, we now have a road map to prioritize where to put philanthropy and strengthen this important work.

What is common across the above examples is the complexity of the problems and need for system change both locally and at the state and national level. There is no silver bullet or easy answer…just hard work with dedicated leadership, aligned strategy and the need for local resources.

I hope that as you read this edition of our Quarterly Impact Report, you will find new insights that help you to ground truth your own understanding of what is happening in our community. If you believe in this approach for your own philanthropy, I invite you to engage with us and allow TTCF to help inform your own giving strategy.

Stacy Caldwell