Richard C. Harwood
The latest Edelman Trust Barometer -- which measures levels of trust in 27 countries -- reports that trust in non-governmental organizations has fallen to a new five-year low. Still the most trusted in comparison to government, media and business, this recent survey is bad news for nonprofits.
According to the Edelman research, a big factor in the decline of trust in nonprofits is people's belief that these organizations have become too focused on fundraising and money and operate too much like businesses. A sense of the public good is missing.
This finding corresponds with my own research over the years. In a series of research studies and on-the-ground work in communities across the country, my own organization has found that too many nonprofits have turned inward, focusing on their own survival, positioning, image, turf battles and seizing credit. Many organizations believe this inward focus is their ticket to earning greater support. But the fact is that these behaviors only lead to becoming more disconnected from the very communities these groups seek to serve.
What can we do, then, to rebuild trust?
First and foremost, we must turn outward and make community, not our conference room, the reference point for our choices and actions. Otherwise, we will continue to be mired in the same old conversation. We will continue to look to things like better public relations, better branding and messaging, better indicators and metrics, and better social media campaigns like the now famous "Ice Bucket Challenge" as silver bullet solutions to building trust.