TrustBridge Works to Make Direct, International Giving Accessible, Pain-Free
TrustBridge Global Foundation, which works to make direct global charitable giving common, pain-free, and inexpensive, has granted more than $65 million to international groups during the past three years.
Launched by the National Christian Foundation before being spun off as an independent charity, TrustBridge is part of the TrustBridge Global Network, which has offices in Switzerland, Puerto Rico, France, Romania, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, and grants over $2 billion a year to 70,000 charities in more than 75 countries on six continents.
TrustBridge’s mission is “Making global giving easy.”
For CEO Robert Collins, making it easier for people to give directly to foreign groups is more than a hot philanthropic trend. It’s a way to increase efficiency, ministry impact, and tax benefits for North American donors.
Collins came to Christian philanthropy through a surprising spiritual journey.
Biblical “fairy tales”
After college, Collins spent 16 years in investment banking, eventually serving as a top Investment Officer at Goldman Sachs Asset Management where he led a 54-person team that invested $36 billion in international equities portfolios.
By the time he was 29, he was very successful, if not always satisfied with his life. A committed atheist, he considered himself an intellectual, but he had never fully applied his mind to his philosophy of life. So he launched a new project.
“I thought it was not honest to say that I believed something is false if I never checked it out,” he says. So he started reading the Bible, assuming his research would confirm his suspicion that it was all a “big fairy tale.”
“I know it’s all false,” he told himself, hoping after a short time of skeptical Bible reading he could “move on with my life.”
But things don’t always turn out as planned, as another 29-year-old atheist—a journalist named Lee Strobel—showed. The more Strobel learned about Christ, the more he was drawn to faith. He has since become one of the most popular Christian apologists of the last few decades, authoring “The Case for Christ” and other books.
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Collins soon found himself on a similar journey.
“In the process of reading, I had an experience of scales falling from my eyes, like the Apostle Paul,” Collins says. “The Holy Spirit showed me how it was all true. A couple of weeks later, I went to a Presbyterian church and was baptized.”
His career in investment banking continued for another nine years until a “confluence of events”—including regrets over not being an engaged father of his five children and a desire to do more than simply help rich people grow richer—led him to “make the move to the charity side.”
He spent the next 16 years with the National Christian Foundation, one of the largest nonprofits in the U.S., and the country’s largest provider of Donor Advised Funds for Christian givers.
During his time at NCF, Collins helped incubate a new venture incorporated in 2016 called TrustBridge, designed to make it easier for donors to make direct donations to international charities. Soon, this new venture was growing so quickly it demanded greater attention. When TrustBridge spun off from NCF in 2019, Collins became its CEO.
The charity describes itself as “the first donor advised fund to be built from the ground up to be truly global.”
Growth in direct giving
Millions of Americans support foreign ministries through their donations to U.S. charities like World Vision and Compassion. TrustBridge’s approach cuts out these middle ministries by making it easier for U.S. donors to give directly to international work—while getting a U.S. tax deduction.
“It’s a growing trend,” says Collins. “People are becoming more global-minded as they do more international travel and gain more global exposure, leading to giving opportunities that are more direct.”
TrustBridge says reasons for increased direct global giving include:
- Greater impact in countries where prices and salaries are lower.
- Avoiding “the costs that larger multinational NGOs sometimes layer onto donations.”
- Local knowledge.
- People’s desire to give “where their heart has been touched and where the need is greatest.”
Collins says the first charity TrustBridge supported shows how far U.S. dollars can go in foreign hands. Cacata Puede, a parachurch ministry in the Dominican Republic, operates a pastor training program, a medical clinic, an after school tutoring program, and evangelistic outreach—all with an annual budget of $32,000.
“A donor found them, and now they’re our favorite charity,” Collins says.
Another donor recently asked about supporting an orphanage in Uganda. TrustBridge vetted the group and facilitated the transfer of funds through its international network.
TrustBridge doesn’t charge fees, but says it “shares the cost of operating the foundation…equitably.”
A case study on its website shows how TrustBridge helped the Maclellan Foundation increase its direct international giving by solving issues, including vetting foreign charities, and transferring funds to projects in closed countries. Maclellan praised its global expertise and “unbeatable price.”
“Our vision is to make global giving more normal and natural while taking the cost out of the equation,” Collins said.
Financial reports show TrustBridge’s cash flow from 2018-2020:
- 2018: Income through donations, $75 million. Grants, $29 million.
- 2019: Income through donations, $22 million. Grants, $22 million. ($14 million of that was international grants, nearly all through Europe. Domestically, $3 million went to Oral Roberts University, and $900,000 went to Pioneers, Inc.
- 2020: Income through donations, $29 million. Grants, $13 million.
- It has $26.5 million in assets.
Although Donor Advised Funds have come under fire for giving wealthy donors instant deductions for gifts that may not actually reach charities for years, Collins defends them, saying they have increased overall giving, and have enabled more groups to respond to urgent needs, such as pandemic-related challenges.
As he explained in a 2020 blog post entitled “Donor Advised Funds Were Up Almost 300 Percent This Decade. Why?,” Collins says DAFs are helping generate a great wealth transfer that can address many of the world’s problems.
“I can see the critics’ side of the argument,” he says, acknowledging that some large donors are in it mainly for the tax breaks, not the charity. But he says Christians are more highly motivated to use their DAFs to “get their money out there.”
“But I think the DAF construct has done a lot to release more giving from more people,” he says. “More giving has been done because donors had the flex of DAFs to manage their giving. I’ve seen it personally, and no doubt in my mind, people are giving more money through DAFs than they would have without them.”
Editor’s Note: A growing number of high-capacity donors are using philanthropy consultants. These organizations help the donors develop giving strategies, and then make sure they stay on the plan over time. MinistryWatch will be profiling several of these organizations in the months ahead. To read our previous profile of Financial Planning Ministries, click here. Our profile of Excellence in Giving is here.