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Public Trust in Nonprofits Is on the Rise, But There’s Still Work to Do

It’s no surprise that financially supporting a nonprofit takes a lot of trust. The donor has to believe that the organization can (and will!) do more good with their money than the person could do as an individual.


Seventy percent of survey respondents to the 2023 Donor Trust Report rated the importance of trusting a charity before giving as a 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale. Yet only 20% of respondents said they highly trust charities.

2023 Donor Trust Report Trust and Trust Imporance Historical Data
2023 Donor Trust Report shows that survey respondents trust in nonprofits, and how important they think trust in nonprofits is, has stayed consistent over the past 5 years.

However, the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer indicates that public trust in nonprofits is on the rise. When American respondents were asked to “indicate how much you trust nonprofits to do what is right,” their average response increased from 45% in 2022 to 53% in 2024.


It’s important to note that neither of these reports specifically surveyed current or likely donors. It’s safe to assume that your donors have more trust in your nonprofit. Otherwise, they wouldn’t give!


Whether public trust is at 20% or 53% or somewhere in between, the take-away is the same: there is ample room to build public trust with your nonprofit organization.  And by increasing public trust, you increase the likelihood of someone becoming a donor.


You can build public trust in your nonprofit through smart communication strategies.


1. Welcome concerns and questions from the public.


The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer asked survey respondents how a nonprofit organization can earn or keep the trust that they are a good manager of change, which is a crucial component for any organization wanting to remain relevant. Not so surprisingly, top answers included “aiding the vulnerable” and “helping people keep up,” which are likely core parts of your mission.


Notably, 78% of respondents said, “Hear our concerns, let us ask questions.”


Is your nonprofit creating opportunities for feedback? Are you available for public questions? The best relationships (with clients, with donors, with the public) require 2-way communication.


2. Tout your case for support and do it often.


59% of 2023 Donor Trust Report respondents said that “accomplishments shared by the organization” are one of the top 3 factors that signal that a charity is trustworthy. 27% included “passion and sincerity of appeals” and 21% chose “appealing stories.”


What great news that you can improve public perceptions just by sharing the impact of your mission! You likely have stories and testimonials that you use to appeal for donations. Are you sharing those with the public? Would someone who’s never donated have a clue why donations to your organization are critical?


3. Make it easy for all people to assess your trustworthiness.


What’s the biggest factor in a person’s confidence to determine trustworthiness in a charity? According to the 2023 Donor Trust report, it’s the survey respondent’s income bracket. The higher a household’s income, the more likely the respondent was to say that assessing a charity’s trustworthiness was “easy.”


Unintentionally, nonprofits may have created disparity in knowledge sharing.

  • The major gift officers keep top donors informed of the latest strategic decisions and newest initiatives...

  • The fundraising department sends out an annual report teeming with the mission highlights...

  • Wealthy community members may be invited to exclusive events regardless of their donor status…


Has this information gatekeeping added to the annual decrease in the number of donors as the wealth gap widens?  How can your charity make a concerted effort to include the entire population in your communication campaigns?


You can protect your nonprofit — and its revenue streams — from the ebbs and flows of public sentiments with strategic, straightforward, and inclusive communication efforts. Nonprofits that communicate in this way will build trust, creating an opportunity to pursue their mission for years to come.



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