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Communicating Impact - How Your Nonprofit Can Improve Public Trust

Nonprofits rely on a number of factors in order to secure funding for their mission. While awareness, passion, and capacity are not interdependent and can all separately lead to donations, trust is a prerequisite factor to making a donation.

Unfortunately, in an era marked by skepticism and scrutiny, public trust in institutions, including nonprofits, is experiencing a concerning decline. 

A recent article in the The Stanford Social Innovation Review by Kristen Grimm, Claire de Leon, Michael Crawford & Diana Chun of Spitfire Strategies, strategic communication firm for nonprofits and foundations, put a spotlight on our society’s growing trust deficit; an opinion backed up by studies from the Edelman Trust Barometer, Gallup, and General Social Survey by NORC at the University of Chicago.

While for-profits can weather the storm by continuing to provide goods and services (some of which are impossible to abstain from), nonprofits are uniquely challenged: no such direct exchange occurs between donors and nonprofits. Without trust, funding can suffer greatly.

At the heart of every nonprofit's mission lies the desire to create positive change, whether it be poverty alleviation, healthcare access, or any other noble cause. However, without the trust of the public, these organizations struggle to garner the support and resources necessary to effectively address the complex social issues they aim to tackle. Public trust serves as the bedrock upon which nonprofits build their legitimacy, credibility, and ultimately, their ability to drive meaningful impact.

One of the primary reasons behind the decline in public trust is a lack of understanding about the organization and its mission. When people are unaware of the work being done by a nonprofit or are uncertain about its impact, trust naturally diminishes. In today's (mis)information-saturated world, nonprofits must actively work to bridge this gap by transparently communicating not just their goals, but their outputs and outcomes.

The SSIR article authors recommend (among others) the urgent need for nonprofits to embrace best practices in order to regain and reinforce public trust. The three key points emphasized are:

  • Walk your talk. This addresses behaving with integrity, knowing and following moral norms and elevating moral norms to show they are alive and well.

  • Put your best foot forward. These are practices and behaviors that will increase trust, like proving competency, showing you trust the people you serve, and welcoming participation.

  • Don’t step in it. These are behaviors and practices to avoid because they erode trust, like masking misalignment rather than taking concrete actions to fix.

All of these point to the critical importance of performance measurement and communications.

To achieve long-term sustainability and maximize your impact, nonprofit leaders must prioritize building trust across diverse stakeholder groups, including staff, partners, beneficiaries, and donors. This necessitates a multifaceted approach that integrates best practices such as transparency and accountability in nonprofit operations.

Most nonprofits are forthcoming in disclosing their financials, governance structures, and programmatic activities. Outcomes are often a missing piece. By providing stakeholders with clear and accessible information on the short, medium, and long-term outcomes of your programs, organizations demonstrate your commitment to the responsible stewardship of resources.

Performance measurement and impact reporting play an equally crucial role in bolstering public trust. In an environment where donors and funders increasingly demand evidence of outcomes and effectiveness, nonprofits must adopt rigorous evaluation methodologies to assess their impact accurately. Impact reporting not only demonstrates accountability but also enables organizations to track progress, identify areas for improvement, and communicate your achievements effectively.

Embracing best practices in impact measurement and reporting is not only essential for earning greater trust but also for driving continuous improvement and innovation within the nonprofit sector. However, many organizations struggle to navigate the complexities of impact assessment, often lacking the necessary tools and resources to do so effectively.

This is where innovative solutions like SureImpact come into play. SureImpact offers a comprehensive software platform designed to streamline impact measurement, reporting, and communication for nonprofits of all sizes. By leveraging SureImpact's intuitive tools and powerful analytics, organizations can effortlessly track their outcomes, generate insightful reports, and engage stakeholders with compelling narratives of your impact.

There is no better time to engage in trust-building than right now. Ask yourself and your team: Is what we are doing today, this week, this year increasing trust or eroding it? You have a unique position and can use your power to make trust a strength for your organization to create better outcomes for our society. Committing to transparency and accountability will help reverse the trust deficit and elevate social trust. Imagine what’s possible in that world.

To learn more about how SureImpact can help enable you to better communicate your impact to donors and institutional funders, watch our quick product tour here >> or view this case study about how we helped Ohio Learns 360.


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