New Philanthropic Collaborative: The Trust for Civic Life

The Trust for Civic Life, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropic Advisors, is a new philanthropic collaborative tackling America’s crisis of polarization where it matters most: in the local communities where Americans live, work, and experience day-to-day democracy. The Trust grew out of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Our Common Purpose report, co-authored by Rockefeller Brothers Fund President and CEO Stephen Heintz, calling for a reinvention of civic life as a necessary path to a stronger democracy. 

Americans’ trust in institutions and each other is broken, and the need to reinvent civic life is critical and urgent. Traditional stewards of connection, like churches and membership clubs, are in rapid decline. The country’s collective willingness to support violence is on the rise, driven by growing extremism and a fragmented media environment. Despite that, Americans continue to express a shared yearning to live in a country where they can be successful and feel a deep sense of belonging.  

The desire for a different kind of American experience exists, but there is a need for localized civic opportunities that will make it a reality. The Trust is addressing this gap by connecting philanthropy with the local groups and leaders who are pulling their communities together to solve problems and build trust. The Trust is starting with rural communities—particularly in the Black Belt, Central Appalachia, the Southwest border, Tribal communities, and those going through economic or demographic transition—a deeply influential factor in America’s democratic future who are regularly overlooked by both policymakers and funders. The Trust’s new grants will invest in local civic entrepreneurs who are introducing new, innovative programs to their communities and the civic hubs like community foundations, business groups, and art associations that are creating the conditions for those entrepreneurs to succeed.    

The Trust’s initial funding partners, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Stand Together, and Omidyar Networks, share a strong commitment to civic investment and our country’s civic fabric, as well as meaningfully different ideological perspectives, institutional approaches, and areas of expertise. Now the Trust is assembling a cross-ideological set of philanthropists to invest $10 million annually in a new wave of people, places, and programs that increase trust, belonging, and unity. The first set of grants will be awarded in June with an initial focus on rural areas and small towns, places chronically overlooked by national funders.  

As investment in local places, people, and programs grows, the way Americans interact with their communities, their democratic institutions, and each other will start to transform. Over the next five years, the Trust will work to recruit more funding partners who share the belief that investing in local civic life is a direct path to addressing polarization and immediate threats to American democracy.  

Get involved with the Trust’s work and learn more at