What New Trust Data Tell Us

Today, Independent Sector released a survey on trust in civil society. In many ways, the findings are not surprising. They reinforce things we’ve known about the ways trust drives things like volunteering, giving, and civic engagement. The data show that nonprofits are more trusted than philanthropy and that the more closely aligned with mission and impact, the more likely people trust those organizations.

We also know that trust, and certainly the world, have changed since we conducted our 3,000-person survey in late 2019/early 2020. In fact, more recent surveys by our partner, Edelman Intelligence, and The Chronicle of Philanthropy have shown that trust has increased with nonprofits in light of our response to the global pandemic.

I have long discussed the core value in civil society that we believe in private action for public good. At the heart of the social contract is trust. Recently we’ve seen two powerful examples: the extraordinary response of nonprofits to meet the demands the pandemic has created in our communities, and the protests of thousands of people of all races, religions, and orientations fighting injustices against Black people across the world. Finally, in this moment, we have a more common trust in the stories, the data, and reality of structural racism embedded in our founding and in our policies. It is on all of us, collectively, to harness that recognition toward action. We hope that diving into this trust report helps us to do just that.

So what is this trust survey about?

As an organization that represents both nonprofits and philanthropy in our work, Independent Sector knew as the pandemic took grip and our country focused on the state of our systemic injustices, we needed to stop holding onto this data. Rather than wait for the right moment in time to release it, we’ve decided to release it right away for you to digest, understand, and use it to help enhance your own missions.

Our findings elevated a few key themes:

  1. There is broad trust in nonprofits, except among underserved communities. And yet, people of color reported higher levels of trust in the nonprofit sector than 10 years ago.
  2. There is uncertainty about the direction of the sector. Despite overall high levels of trust in the sector, people are unsure about the direction and believe that everyday people are best positioned to make change.
  3. A personal familiarity drives trust. Seventy-three percent of respondents report that familiarity is a key driver in building trust in a given nonprofit. In contrast with nonprofits, just 36 percent of the public express high trust in philanthropy.
  4. Civic engagement in reciprocal relationship with trust. Survey findings introduce the prospect that there may be reciprocal relationships between activities like voting, trust, and giving.
  5. The ability to demonstrate impact and emphasize mission and values builds trust in organizations.

We invite you to unpack the findings in the report. In the coming weeks, we will have a webinar specifically for Independent Sector members, and an Upswell Pop-Up for the broader community to wrestle with some of the data and themes with leaders of all kinds. Please be on the lookout for more information on our websites and in your inbox.

Please read the survey and let us know what you think.

Types: Blog
Global Topics: Civil Society, IS Staff, Trust