Just 18.5% of Donors “Highly Trust” Charities. So, What Do We Do?

Trust is an elusive quality. Much can be accomplished with it, little without it.

The 2021 Donor Trust Report demonstrates this. Trust not only influences whether someone will give, it also influences how much they give. Key findings from the survey include:

  • 63% of respondents say trust is essential before giving
  • 18.5% of respondents say they highly trust charities
  • Of those who highly trust charities, 89.4% reported donating in 2020

The survey digs deeper and asks what factors build trust in a charity. The top factors are: (1) accomplishments shared by the organization, (2) third-party evaluations by an independent organization, (3) name recognition, (4) financial soundness and (5) passion and sincerity of appeal.

Details large and small contribute. Spelling a donor’s name correctly and responding promptly are two examples of small actions that, if missed, have large consequences.

As you might expect, the survey shows that trust fluctuates. Different target audiences and different types of charities influence the rankings.

Which is to say, you’ll have to find what trust means for your donors and organization.

“Donors must trust you before they give. Make them believers.” – Jerold Panas, The Irrefutable Canons of Fundraising

Trust for the Long Term

The 2020 Leaving a Legacy study from Giving USA showed that confidence in the organization’s longevity was a key factor in giving.

“Expect organization to be around a long time” was the second most popular reason (after mission) for choosing the organization that would receive a donor’s largest legacy gift. (It earned 64.1% of votes, second to “Track record of success” at 65.1%.)

Legacy giving is about permanence. Donors must believe that your organization will continue to fulfill its mission far into the future.

Confidence in an organization’s leadership succession plan also plays in. Will an organization extend after a particular individual’s leadership? This is especially true for organizations led by a prominent founder. 

“You have to know they have a future and a damn good one.” – Richard Radcliffe, Why Do People Give

So, What Should I Do?

Dive into your donor profile and make sure you’re offering the trust builders that your donors value. Then test. Does a campaign highlighting accomplishments pull better than one that puts financial soundness front and center?

Here are some tactics worth testing.

  • Use social proof. Let others tell why they trust your organization.
  • Give regular updates. Don’t let an accomplishment go unnoticed, especially with the quick-hit, low-cost nature of social media and email.
  • Be upfront about guiding policies. One resource to build trust is the Donor Bill of Rights, created by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the Association of Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP), the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Giving Institute. Ensure that you’re following it, then link to it from your communications. Make privacy policies and codes of conduct clear and readily available.
  • Include trust indicators. Share third-party evaluations through badges that indicate a high rating or ranking. For example, Better Business Bureau seals and grades, US News rankings and GuideStar Seals of Transparency. Make these seals prominent on your website and social media homepages.
  • Invest in your brand. Name recognition is always crucial.
  • Be transparent with your financials. Share your annual and quarterly reports. Share information on how you stretch your dollars. Go beyond the IRS 990 in telling your financial story.
  • Celebrate anniversaries. Highlight your health and longevity by promoting milestones, such as “Part of your community for 100 years.”

Overall, be patient. Building donor trust takes time and consistent effort—and may need to begin anew as we engage once again through events and personal visits.

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