Although searches for “fake news” have seen a steady decline since the term first spiked onto Google search in February 2017, trust with the American public remains at an all time low.
In a recent Edleman study, 59% of respondents said, “My tendency is to distrust until I see evidence that something is trustworthy.” The same study found respondents have especially decreased trust in the government and in the media, both of which respondents called “divisive.”
Business and non-profit organizations on the other hand saw a slight increase in trust among consumers, although those numbers varied significantly by consumer demographic and type of charity.
“Young people put less trust in traditional nonprofits. They favor causes instead of institutions and different paths to change than their parents’ or grandparents. “
– Kristin Lord, Edelman
Despite the reported overall upward shift, charities continue to struggle with a lack of trust among donors and partners. A recent study by Give.org, an arm of the Better Business Bureau (BBB), found that no charity realized a trust level of more than one in four (25%) respondents in 2020.
The most trusted charities–by type–were religious organizations (25%), animal welfare organizations (23%), health organizations (22%), not-for-profit hospitals (22%), and veteran’s organizations (21%). Clocking in at the mid range were social service charities (20%), police and firefighter organizations (19%), and international relief organizations (18%). Youth development organizations, environmental organizations, and civil rights and community action organizations all clocked in at a 16% trust level.
At the very bottom of the trust spectrum, education organizations and arts and culture charities ranked lowest, each collecting a dismal 15% trust rate.
Better Information, Better Trust
What is driving that lack of trust? And more importantly, what can cash-strapped non-profit organizations do to build more trust among their constituents?
Information Quality: The Edeleman study reports that “information quality” is the “most powerful trust builder.” Give.org agrees, noting that 41% of respondents are most influenced by a charity website in “assessing whether a charity is trustworthy.” Give.org further reports that the highest number (24%) of respondents did their charitable giving directly through an organization’s website in 2020.
Other important metrics in determining trust?
Accomplishments: An organization’s accomplishments are also a key yardstick in establishing trust, although respondents tend to define accomplishments in different ways depending on demographics. Appealing stories, for example,most appealed to millennials (30.1%), while passion and sincentry of the appeal resonated with African American donors (33.3%).
Third-Party Evaluations: High-value donors, or those who contributed more than $5,000 in 2020, noted that third-party evaluations were an important metric in establishing trust.
Spending on Programs vs. Administration: 74 percent of respondents in 2017 said they weigh how much a charity spends on programs vs. how much it spends on fundraising or other administrative costs as “very important” in establishing trust.
Building Trust via the Non Profit Annual Report
Although non profit organizations are not required to file an annual report (not to be confused with the Form 990, which is a mandatory IRS document), the yearly accounting of activities is an excellent tool to help establish trust with donors, volunteers, grantmaking organizations and other potential partners.
People who contribute to non profit organizations agree.
A whopping 89% of people surveyed said that annual reports are a “very important” or “somewhat important” factor in deciding whether or not an organization deserves support, according to Give.org.
Three out of five respondents indicated annual reports to be “very important”
General Statistics on Trust
- People today grant their trust based on two distinct attributes: competence (delivering on promises) and ethical behavior (doing the right thing and working to improve society). (Edelman Trust Barometer, 2020)
- 59% of people say “My tendency is to distrust until I see evidence that something is trustworthy.” (Edelman Trust Barometer) (2022)
- “The nonprofit sector…is uniquely positioned to be a leader in rebuilding public trust in institutions by supporting and leading broad-based community responses to [COVID-19], fighting systemic racism, and addressing the host of challenges we face as a society.” (Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy)
- 46% of customers say they would spend more money on brands they trust. (Salsify, 2022)
- 49% of consumers started purchasing or purchased more from a company because of trust (PWC, 2021)
Only 35% of Edelman’s respondents reported that NGOs are doing “well” or “very well” when it comes to “transparency about funding”
Donor Trust is Invaluable
- 63% of donors rate the importance of trusting a charity before giving as a “9” or “10” on a 10-point scale.. (Profiles in Charity Trust and Giving, 2020)
- Individuals who place “high importance” on trust were more likely to donate (75.2%) than individuals who place “low importance on trust’.’ (Give.org Donor Trust Report, 2020).
- Charity trust ranked highest as an important aspect of the giving process, outpacing information on the charity’s impact, gut feeling, stories with the charity’s work, and even relationship with the charity in every age demographic. (Give.org Charity Impact, 2021)
- Individual giving far outpaces foundation giving, with individual donors contributing nearly five times as much as foundations to non profit organizations. (Philanthropy Roundtable, 2016)
- Less than one in five donors who gave to a charity for the first time in 2019, did not give to the same charity the following year. (Association of Fundraising Professionals, 2020)
Other Non-Profit Statistics
- Strategic Partnerships: 84.1% of nonprofit leaders say their organizations regularly consider pursuing strategic partnerships.
- More than half (60-65%) of strategic partnerships fail, with common reasons including unrealistic expectations, failure to agree on objectives and lack of trust or communication. The Art of Strategic Partnering: Dancing with Elephants
- Trust in Charities vs. the Government: 74% of voters trust charities more than they trust the federal government and they would like to see expanded access to charitable giving. (United for Charity, Independent Sector, 2016)
- Funding for Non-Profit Organizations Remains Flat: 67% of nonprofit survey respondents who self-identified as serving Native American communities reported that their organization had received no new funding from their foundation supporters in 2020. In contrast, 52% of overall nonprofit survey respondents said their support from foundations increased in 2020). 11 Trends in Philanthropy for 2022, Deborah A. Johnson Center for Charitable Giving (2022)
- Foundations – 36% [of non-profit program officers] say that developing and maintaining relationships is a responsibility that takes up the greatest amount of their time, while 53% believe it should take up the greatest amount of their time in order to be most effective in their role. Center for effective philanthropy
- Volunteers – 41.6% of volunteers became involved with an organization after being asked; (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Volunteering in the U.S., 2015).
- R O U G H L Y 6 I N 1 0 A M E R I C A N S R E P O R T D O N A T I N G T O A
- N O N P R O F I T A T L E A S T O N C E I N T H E P A S T Y E A R A N D M O R E
- T H A N H A L F H A V E A D V O C A T E D F O R A C A U S E
- I need to know a
- great deal about an
- organization before I
- choose to support it
- Nonprofits must
- earn my trust before
- I s
- Reasons for Low Trust in Nonprofits: 11%
- • Mismanaged funds and high overhead
- • Inappropriate political agenda
- • Inappropriate business ties
- • General corruption
- • Heard about scams
- Celebrity/public figure endorsements
- Clear mission
- Engages underserved communities
- Demonstrating how support leads to results
- Benefits my community
- Profiles in Charity Trust and Giving, Give.org (2021)
- Edelman Trust Barometer (2022)
- Donor Trust Report, Give.org (2020)
- Donor Trust Report, Give.org (2019)
- Donor Trust Report, Give.org (2018)
- Statistics on US Generosity, Philanthropy Roundtable (2016)
- United for Charity, The Independent Sector (2016)
- society). (Edelman Trust Barometer, 2020)