As a parent of a certain age, with a son of a certain age, I have heard this more times than I might count. The reality is, of course, that we do need to trust our children, spouses, and other family members and friends closest to us – no matter how hard that sometimes might be. But that is the subject of a different blog for a different publication.
As leaders in the nonprofit sector – leaders of both charities and philanthropy – we also know that we need the public to trust us. Here at Independent Sector, we often talk about trust as being the “currency” of the nonprofit sector, and without that “trust currency,” everything we do as a sector becomes harder if not impossible.
Think of what having trust means (or what losing it might mean). Having a high degree of public trust allows our sector to function as critical agents of change in communities – getting people to do the hard work of changing systems and confronting difficult truths. Trust makes that work possible. Public trust in sector organizations also makes us invaluable partners, including to government at all levels. That matters – especially for those of us in the service delivery space – as government often looks to us to implement on the ground. Finally, think of how essential a high degree of trust is to raising resources, whatever the source. This list of “reasons why” is a long one.
Four years ago, Independent Sector, in partnership with Edelman Data and Intelligence, set out to dig deeper into what the public was thinking when it came to trusting nonprofits and philanthropy. Three years ago, with Edelman, we launched our first nonprofit and philanthropy trust survey – the largest of its kind in the United States. This month, we released our third annual survey results in our 2022 Independent Sector Trust in Civil Society report. With three years of data under the belt, we can legitimately begin to talk about trends in the data over time.
I want you to go to the source (the report) and read it for yourself. I am not going to be the “spoiler.” I will say, however, that, while nonprofits are still among the most trusted of institutions in the nation (in a climate where trust in institutions of all types continues to decline), there are reasons to pause and reflect on some downward pressures we are beginning to track in the data. We discussed many of these trends and what we might do about them in a public webinar on the 2022 report and its findings. If you didn’t have the chance to join us, you can watch the full trust report conversation here.
In the end, of course, the data might be interesting, but it is what we DO with what we are seeing in those data that matters most. That is why our trust survey reports – like our regular Health of the U.S. Nonprofit Sector reports – are designed to do three things:
- Report the data in a clear format
- Offer interpretation of the data and lift up trends that are emerging across reports
- Suggest potential actions – be they policy or practice recommendations – that might be taken in response to what we are learning
As is true with so much of the work we do here at Independent Sector, we look to these reports to inform, but, more importantly, to spark conversation and drive the change that is needed to strengthen public trust in nonprofits and to keep us moving toward a healthier, more equitable sector. And as you hear us say often, we believe a trusted, healthy, and equitable nonprofit sector is one of the key ingredients to getting us to a place where all people living in the U.S. can thrive.
So, yeah, “we need them to trust us.”