Nonprofit Trust

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?