Public trust is the currency of the nonprofit sector. The public’s belief that nonprofits will “do the right thing” is one of the central reasons the sector exists. Communities have relied upon nonprofits to provide trusted sources of information, life-sustaining services, environmental stewardship, and places of refuge for centuries. In today’s highly polarized environment, understanding and managing trust has never been more important for organizations to own their license to operate, lead, and succeed. Given the outsized importance of trust, it is imperative to assess the status of that trust and how the sector can strengthen its most valuable asset.
Independent Sector, in partnership with Edelman Intelligence, has begun what we hope to be an annual series of surveys to explore the nuances of trust in American nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. Building on Independent Sector’s four decades of bringing together the charitable community for the common good and Edelman Intelligence’s experience studying trust in both the global and US context, we set out to conduct two national surveys, each of 3,000 American adults ages 18+ , to assess general population trust in the sector (philanthropy and nonprofits) and uncover the factors that drive trust in the sector.
These trust survey findings, in addition to being reported in the following document, are part of Independent Sector’s annual Health of the U.S. Nonprofit Sector report.
1. There is broad trust in nonprofits, except among underserved communities.
And yet, people of color reported high levels of trust in the nonprofit sector than 10 years ago.
2. There is uncertainty about the sector’s direction.
Despite overall high levels of trust in the sector, people are unsure about its direction and believe everyday people are best positioned to make change.
3. Personal familiarity drives trust.
Seventy-three percent of respondents report familiarity is a key driver in building trust in a given nonprofit.
4. Civic engagement has a 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.
Organizations must focus on showcasing impact and demonstrate their mission for the public to develop greater levels of trust.