Trust is an essential ingredient for the success of any social-good organization. You cannot develop impactful collaborations between nonprofit and government organizations without trust. Volunteers and funders will never donate their resources to your nonprofit unless they trust you will use their time and money wisely. Individuals who enroll in your programs are trusting you to help them improve their lives. There is no arguing that trust is essential for impact-centric nonprofits. But what does community trust look like, and how do you cultivate it in a way that furthers your mission?
Trust in the Social-Good Sector
In 2020, Independent Sector released a study aimed at understanding the factors that drive trust in civil society. In their findings, the researchers described trust as the “currency of the nonprofit sector.” They even argue that the social-good sector could not exist without community trust.
The study found that almost 60% of respondents report a high confidence that nonprofits are working to “do what is right.” This statistic appears to paint a positive view of nonprofits in the community, but the narrative changes if you look at the numbers by demographic. High income and educated populations are likely to trust nonprofits. Rural, less educated, and underserved populations are less trusting of the nonprofit sector. Which means that the demographics most likely to benefit from social-good organizations are the least likely to trust them. Clearly, there is opportunity for improvement in order to maximize outcomes and impact for high-need populations.
So how do you build public trust for your nonprofit? As part of a large-scale study on trust in the nonprofit sector, Annika Becker identified five factors associated with developing trust.
Promise of Mission and Values
Your organization’s mission is your predominant focus. It directs everything you are trying to accomplish and determines both your short and long-term strategies. Values are the core beliefs that govern your actions as an organization. Having a clear mission and solid values are key to building trust with community members, funders, and service recipients.
You determine your organization’s reputation by how your mission and values align with reality. It is one thing to publicly state a meaningful mission and impactful values. It is another to live by them.
If community members and service recipients perceive any inconsistency between your stated values and your actions, it will damage your reputation, and your trustworthiness.
Transparency and Accountability
Transparency and accountability are separate but related ideas. To be transparent is to be open for public scrutiny, while being accountable is a willingness to be responsible for one’s actions. Running a nonprofit requires following countless rules and regulations. Some of these rules come in the form of laws and statutes from state and federal governments, while others originate with funders.
The best way to practice transparency in your nonprofit is through real-time data reporting. Tracking and communicating performance indicators, financial details, and impact data allow your organization to show that you are complying with regulations and creating positive change in your community. These same data practices will also facilitate accountability by helping you see opportunities for improvement.
Performance and Social Impact
Your nonprofit exists to create a positive impact in the lives of real people. Whether your stated mission involves unemployment, education, or housing, it has people at its core. The surest way to build trust in your nonprofit is to create lasting impact.
But how do you know if your programs and services are successful in creating impact? That starts with tracking metrics. Nonprofit metrics, also known as nonprofit key performance indicators (KPIs), are measurable outputs and outcomes that help nonprofits assess the impact their inputs and activities make on their communities.
Nonprofit metrics are not just for external reporting. You can also use data to help you improve internally. When you understand what is working and what isn’t, you can make data-informed decisions that improve your impact and build trust with your community and your funders.
Use of Contributions
Whether you focus on government grants or grassroots fundraising, your nonprofit relies on funding from outside sources. The fastest way to destroy trust in your organization is by misusing that money. Laws and regulations prevent nonprofits from using funds for personal gain, but responsible use of donated funds is about more than just following the letter of the law. Building trust requires using funds in a way that translates into real value for the community. Funders are investors who seek social change rather than financial returns. Like any investor, they seek to place their money where they can get the best return on investment. Measuring and sharing the impact of your funders’ contributions will gain their trust and enable you to win more grant dollars and increase your long-term sustainability.
SureImpact helps social-good providers build their public trust through a purpose-built impact management platform that provides data collection, impact measurements, and real-time reporting. SureImpact’s simple and collaborative case management and outcome tracking tools are designed to help nonprofits manage, measure, and communicate their social impact while also increasing data capacity for their team members and fueling transparency and accountability.
Take an interactive tour of SureImpact Analytics to learn more.