Trust across all institutions is declining, but majority remain confident in nonprofit and philanthropic sector
(WASHINGTON, July 20, 2021) – For the second year in a row, Independent Sector has published original findings on trust in civil society from a research study conducted in partnership with Edelman Data & Intelligence. The 2021 Independent Sector Trust in Civil Society survey finds, overall, that trust across all institutions is declining, but a majority of Americans remain confident in the ability of the nonprofit and philanthropic sector to strengthen U.S. society.
Specifically, the survey reveals increased confidence (84% in 2021) in the ability of nonprofits to strengthen society, and that Americans support nonprofits in helping the most vulnerable, making change, and setting a good example for others. Confidence also increased in philanthropy (65% in 2021) among Americans. On the question of trusting nonprofits and philanthropy (corporations, private foundations, and high-net worth individuals) to do what is right, the net nonprofit trust level stayed relatively the same at 45 points in 2021, but trust in philanthropy dropped to 4 points in 2021.
“Understanding these findings is critical because public trust continues to be the currency of the nonprofit sector to support healthier and more equitable communities. We know increased engagement leads to more trust,” said Daniel J. Cardinali, president and CEO of Independent Sector. “We need to use this data about trust and confidence so we can emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than before and to address racial injustice, environmental sustainability, and economic challenges. All communities, including communities of color, need to thrive in the United States.”
Key themes from the 2021 Independent Sector Trust in Civil Society survey include:
- Institutional trust is declining – and nonprofits and philanthropy are not immune to this trend. Trust in all institutions is returning to pre-pandemic levels.
- Trust disparities deepen and align with broader social trends. For example, Americans with lower incomes, lower levels of education, and residents of rural areas have consistently less trust in the sector than their wealthier, more educated peers.
- Public confidence in the sector (nonprofits and philanthropy) as a force for good remains.
- Civic action and trust reinforce one another. Sizable majorities say trust is a necessary factor for them to support nonprofit organizations.
- Greater engagement breeds trust. People who are familiar with nonprofits and philanthropy are more likely to trust them.
- Purpose and integrity fuel trust in individual nonprofits, but sector drivers are less clear.
For this second annual report, Edelman Data & Intelligence conducted two national surveys (one focusing on nonprofits with 5,000 Americans ages 18+ and one examining philanthropy with 3,000 Americans ages 18+) to assess the general population’s trust in the sector (nonprofits and philanthropy) and examine factors that drive trust. The report’s full methodology is available here.
Independent Sector will hold a free webinar – “What Happens When the Nonprofit Trust Bubble Bursts?” – with sector experts on Thursday, July 22 from 2 to 3 p.m. ET to discuss this report in greater detail. Webinar registration information is available here.
Note: This press release was updated on July 23, 2021 to specify that the net nonprofit trust level is measured by a point system, as compared to percentage.
Independent Sector is the only national membership organization that brings together a diverse community of changemakers, nonprofits, foundations, and corporations working to ensure all people in the United States thrive.