Nonprofit Management

Building Trust is ‘Job #1’

Fake news. Partisan deadlock. Economic volatitlity. How do these affect you?


According to the recently released 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, leaders in every sector —including NGOs! — have reason for concern.

This annual perspective was launched in 2001, when the Chicago-based communications firm set out to examine trust, favorability and credibility among the NGO, Government, Media and Business sectors.

Interestingly, the title of that first year’s report was “NGOs: Why They are Winning.” The 2017 report was called “Trust in Crisis,” and the 2018 report may well come to be labeled “The Collapse of Trust.”

The full report is based on 1,000-plus responses to an online survey from each of 28 participating countries. Respondents are asked to use a nine-point scale to indicate their level of trust in organizations, from “not at all” to “a great deal.”

This year, the U.S. saw the steepest decline in trust worldwide, an aggregate of 37%. While trust in Government led this free-fall, trust in NGO’s also fell, to 49% (less than half?!) among the population in general and from 73% to 51% among the “informed public.”

I find this latter figure particularly alarming because these are the higher income, higher educated individuals I would look to first for financial support. According to the report, trust among this key group in the U.S. is lower than in any of the other 27 countries measured.

So, what can you do?

Communication is key. As the study’s authors note, “Silence and inaction are not options, and no work is more important than re-establishing trust.”

They also cite other markers which may provide direction.

  • After seven consecutive years of growing trust, peer-to-peer credibility began to wane; trust in search engines and social media platforms declined 11 points.
  • “Voices of authority,” i.e., with technical and academic credentials, are more likely to be accepted as credible.
  • In addition, the authors note, “NGOs and business can fill the role of providing reliable information about—and solutions for—the issues that people care about.”

It’s no small challenge. How can you respond?

Secrets of Data Driven Nonprofts

“Data literacy is one of the most valuable skills you can have today and as you move into the future.”

Sounds like advice you might find in a book entitled "Data Driven Nonprofits," doesn’t it?

I had the good fortune to hear the author, Steve MacLaughlin, (again!) as the featured speaker at Nonprofit Connect’s 'think-tank Thursday,' “Secrets of Data Driven Nonprofits.” 

I’ve heard Steve speak a number of times. He’s a great resource on trends in giving, and as Vice President of Data & Analytics at Blackbaud, has a wealth of information at his fingertips.

It also gives him the benefit of watching a broad cross-section of our industry. I found his illustration of the data maturation process - i.e., how organizations understand and use data – very insightful. Essentially, the stages are:
• Descriptive - "What happened?"
• Diagnostic - "Why?"
• Predictive - "What will happen?"
• Prescriptive - "What should we do?"

Unfortunately, many nonprofits are barely at stage one, while the most successful have grown far beyond that. (One caveat: predictive and prescriptive analytics require the use of outside data, which also happens to be one of Blackbaud’s key businesses.)

MacLaughlin identified five secrets (aka best practices) to moving your organization toward taking best advantage of the data available to it.

  1. Data health (better semantic than data hygiene, which he feels sounds painful) – habits to help ensure and maintain the quality and completeness of constituent data.
  2. Champions at all levels – advocates for data management and data-based decision-making throughout the organization.
  3. Data is not a foreign object – making the understanding and use of data routine, "part of the day-to-day fabric" of the organization.  
  4. Good storytelling – data doesn’t speak for itself; it’s a prop for a story and how you present (visualize) that prop can make or break the story.
  5. Culture – the use of data has to fit the culture of the organization. He identified seven different types of organizational culture: champions, change, testing, sharing, growth, agile and data.

So far, I’ve only glanced at the book, but if it offers the same combination of anecdotal and data-based insights that was presented this morning, I already know it’s worth the time.

And if you weren’t able to attend this Nonprofit Connect session, I recommend you pick up a copy as well.

So, What Did You Expect?

When I graduated from being a member of the parish school board to my first position on a local non-profit’s board of directors, it was an eye-opening elevation. 

As a long-time volunteer for the organization, I saw the invitation as an honor ... a recognition of the time I had contributed.

I was also flattered when told my insights and experience would be a valuable addition to the marketing committee ... in obvious recognition of my talent.

When, a few weeks into my term, the board president asked for an appointment, I readily agreed. Imagine my surprise when she asked for a multi-year, multi-thousand commitment of my treasure as well.

The old time, talent or treasure commitment I thought I made fell far short of the time, talent AND treasure expected.

I served a single term on that board, never fully recovering from the initial dissonance. Which means I also never really committed in any of those three critical areas as fully as I might have.

In the years since I’ve grown to appreciate that, with a greater understanding and acceptance of what was expected, I might have also had a greater impact in the position.

Every time an executive director laments his or her relationship with the board – especially in terms of failure to meet expected levels of performance – I question how clearly they see the relationship between recruiting and results.

But that may be a topic for another day. Stay tuned.