Have You Earned Your Donors' Trust?
Trust is such an unusual and special thing. It's so easy to break and can take more than a decade to earn. Trust is the subject of more than 60,000 books on Amazon and is often referred to as the currency by which all work gets done.
With trust being such a vital component in our lives and the backbone to our relationships, it’s not surprising to read the findings of the Independent Sector's recent and third annual “Trust in Civil Society” report.
The study seeks to understand the factors driving trust in nonprofits and philanthropy, and reports that most agree they must know a great deal about an organization before donating. And 78% of respondents say, "Nonprofits must earn my trust before I support them."
So that's the question before every executive director, fundraiser and stewardship team working today: Have you earned your donors' trust?
No matter whether you think you have or not, there’s always more to do to strengthen the relationship and connection between your supporters and your cause. With the report’s highlights that trust of nonprofits among women declined during the pandemic and Gen Z is skeptical of the nonprofit sector, the desire to build trust is an ever-present need within our work today.
Something I now appreciate are those not-so-buttoned-up work moments when I worried the donors in my care might be upset by their experience. Instead of seeing everything go off without a hitch, they saw behind the curtain of what it takes to pull off an event, the things that don’t go right when hosting a national conference or how working with animals is a world of unpredictability and chaos.
In all cases, the not perfectly polished situations led to greater donor engagement because it provided each with a first-hand authentic experience that exposed them to the realities of our mission work. Our donors got to see for themselves what’s needed, what the work on the ground really takes and how they’re making a difference.
Realizing this nuance, it’s clear we have an opportunity to think about how our donors can have experiences more like that of volunteers. To see more of the daily grind, to understand not everything will be perfect and, ultimately, to build more trust with everyone who comes across our path. Although not our intent, we may be providing volunteers with the very trust-building experiences our donors crave. Just starting the dialogue from a different approach and changing the way individuals interact with your nonprofit can lead you down a path of greater trust-building and belonging.
You may find connecting your major donors with less high-end galas and instead providing more mission-focused engagement activities is the way to go. You may start to engage more new audiences and younger generations who tend to thrive and jump in more when invited to co-create solutions together. Just this shift of your organization being at the center of the solution and instead having a more co-created approach can help you garner an expanded relationship with your supporters built on a foundation of greater trust.
No matter whether you focus internally on your staff and the teams working daily on behalf of your organization or the donors, you are helping to better connect with their passion of helping your mission. Remember to stop and ask yourself regularly, what can you do differently to build more trust and build it faster?
Sue Citro is the chief experience officer at Best Friends Animal Society and is responsible for how the development, digital, marketing communications and brand experience teams collaborate and work in new ways to bring more people into Best Friends’ lifesaving work. Before joining Best Friends, Sue led new digital expansions for The Nature Conservancy in Asia and Latin America. She started her career working at Peace Corps headquarters, followed by time at a direct mail agency and then consulting in the digital fundraising space with nonprofits large and small.
Sue holds a master's degree from Johns Hopkins University and lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Jeremy, and 103 lb. rescued dog, "Little" Luca.