Thought experiment:

I want your organization to send a survey to your donors, email subscribers, supporters, Board, volunteers and staff. The survey should contain 3 questions:

  • Do you trust our organization to do the right thing for the community?
  • Do you believe that our organization is ethical?
  • Do you believe that our organization is competent (good at what they do)?

Ask everyone to measure each question on a scale of 1-10.

Now be completely honest with yourself: How well or poorly do you think your organization would be graded?

Can You Trust Nonprofits?

The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer recently came out and its data about nonprofits is not promising. In fact, it’s almost depressing.

Much thanks to Louis Diez of MarktLab who posted on LinkedIn about the report and follow up (which you’ll see below).

The report measures trust in businesses, government, nonprofits and media across 27 different countries. Trust is defined as “trust that what they do is right.” Here are some of the important data points related to nonprofits.

  • Businesses are trusted more than NGO’s (page 6)
  • Trust in NGOs has gone DOWN in the last year (page 6)
  • Trust in NGO’s went down among both Biden and Trump voters (page 10)
  • Trust in the credibility of NGO spokespeople has gone DOWN (page 22)
  • Trust in NGOs in North America stayed the same as last year (page 43)
  • Trust in NGOs decreased in 11 of the 27 countries in the study (page 43)

A lot to unpack. But before I get to that, I want to share this screenshot from page 7 of the report:

2021 Edelman Trust Barometer Report

Screenshot from page 7 of the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer report-

WOW. Nonprofits are seen as ethical (good) but not necessarily competent (not good). So tell me nonprofit employee: How does that make you feel?

How To Turn Things Around

We all have our issues with for-profit businesses. All they’re interested in is money. They’ll do anything to turn a profit. They only care about their stakeholders. They keep wages low so revenue will remain high. And on and on.

But guess what? Businesses are trusted MORE than nonprofits! As more and more businesses commit to being more socially responsible, suddenly they’re seen in a different light, even if some of their business practices are frowned upon.

People trust nonprofits less. The credibility of nonprofit spokespeople has decreased. What does that say about your ability to fundraise? If people don’t trust your organization, if they think you’re not competent at what you do, why would they give you money?

How can we turn this ship around? It starts with gratitude and impact reports.

If your thank you letters to donors are perfunctory, boring and concentrate on the amount that was donated, stop it right away. Your thank you’s should be heartfelt, warm and focus on the act of giving, not the amount donated. The thank you should include “the story of one,” how the donor was able to solve a problem in the community for one of your organization’s beneficiaries.

As Beth Ann Locke says, “Don’t put any space between the donor and the service recipient.”

Showing the donor how their donation was spent and its impact on the community helps build trust and demonstrate competency. It also adds another important component: Transparency.

Why Transparency Is Critical

People expect full transparency today. They want to know how their money was spent. Hiding that information from supporters causes them to lose trust in your organization and ultimately consider donating elsewhere.

Impact reports, both sent directly to supporters and posted online (website and digital media), will help build the trust factor that is so crucial to the donor-nonprofit relationship. You should be sharing your data from every possible avenue and platform you have at your disposal.

Why do donors give? Because they want to solve a problem. They want to do good. Tell them how they solved a problem and are positively impacting their community!

But don’t just take it from me. Thanks to Louis, we also have insights from the U.S. CEO of Edelman:

Rusell Dubner comments on nonprofits and Edelman trust report

Screenshot courtesy of Louis Diez on LinkedIn

Russell Dubner is 100% correct. Communicate impact. Helps grow trust which helps grow relationships which helps retention which helps increase donations…and round and round again and again.

I’ll leave the last word to Billy Joel: It’s always been a matter of trust.

I help nonprofits build relationships and raise more funds so they can increase program offerings and assist more service recipients in their community. If your fundraising and marketing need an upgrade, let’s talk! Together we’ll ensure your marketing is helping and improving your fundraising efforts.