nonprofit technology

How to Use Nonprofit Technology to Cultivate Trust

The world is experiencing emerging distrust in all institutions that is spilling over into skepticism around causes and charities. Nonprofit technology may be a way to refill the nearly empty well.

The Edelman Trust Barometer report offers some bad news for nonprofits and government agencies that engage volunteers.

The Trust Barometer is the international public relations firm’s annual trust and credibility survey. It reports the general population’s trust in all four key institutions — business, government, NGOs, and media. Over the years, Edelman has reported that trust has declined broadly across institutions both in the US and abroad.

Trust in NGOs at an All Time Low

In 2018, for the first time, the level of public faith in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — generally one of the most trusted sectors — fell to nearly the same level as trust in business. This year, trust in US-based NGOs fell to a record low of 4 percent, down 8 percentage points from 2016. In other words, nearly half of the public surveyed distrusts nonprofits. For government agencies, trust dropped to 33 percent, down 6 percentage points in three years.  These trends are also consistent in other developed countries around the world.

With the fall of trust, the majority of respondents now lack full belief that the overall system is working for them. In short, in the current environment there has been an implosion of trust, and nonprofits have not been spared.

The Tyranny of the Algorithm

At the same time, we have seen an increase in trust for online sources, as the public more often turns to their smartphones for information. Between 2012 and 2017, trust in search engines rose three percentage points to 64%, while trust in the traditional news media fell five percentage points to 57 percent.

In terms of reliable sources for general news and information, the public trusts search engine algorithms — and the “wisdom” of crowds of internet browsers — more than they trust journalists and even social media.

Moreover, peers are considered as credible as experts, with 54 percent believing that “a person like you” is very/extremely credible. This has fallen six points since 2017, but regular folks still rank third behind technical experts and academics. NGO representatives rank a distant seventh, with 46 percent rating them as very/extremely credible.

How to Rebuild Trust With Nonprofit Technology

Given the public’s trust in technology, it makes sense to put it to use in a strategic way to rebuild trust in institutions, particularly within nonprofits and government agencies. More specifically, nonprofit technology and websites might be purposefully used as tools to boost communications and transparency with the public.

Consider new experiments like the software platform Frank, which publishes nonprofit transactions from a bank account onto a website or mobile device, with no human intervention. Donors can trace how their gifts were utilized in a refreshingly direct way.

Whether or not Frank gets traction, nonprofits are sure to face rising expectations of transparency from donors, citizens, and customers. So, how can we harness nonprofit technology to bridge the gap?

4 Simple Steps You Can Take Today

On a more simple level, organizations might build trust by posting the following on their website and promoting them:

  • Conflict of Interest Policy — When organizations are clear about who they will accept contributions from, it reassures the public that they are free of pressures from special interests.
  • Impact Scorecards — When organizations develop outcome metrics and display an updated scorecard online, they reassure the public that they are working with the interests of stakeholders in mind.
  • Philosophy of Volunteer Involvement — When organizations are clear about the rationale for the use of volunteers, beyond simply free labor, it becomes clear that they value the community as important partners in mission achievement.
  • Testimonials from Stakeholders — Perhaps most obvious, when organizations highlight the honest assessments and testaments to their character and qualifications, they use the most powerful influence of all, social proof.

We need to rebuild trust and restore faith in third sector work. Nonprofit and public sector institutions must shed traditional roles and work outside comfort zones to allay public fears and suspicions.  

Only by practicing consistent, fearless transparency online can we break through distrust and reconnect our missions with the hearts of those in our communities.

Want to hear more about technology trends and how they affect volunteerism? Check out the replay below of a webinar we presented in partnership with Wild Apricot.

[Webinar Recording] Need Volunteers? Four Tech Trends You Need to Know

Originally presented: February 22, 2018

If you’re struggling to attract and mobilize volunteers, you’re not alone. Many organizations are experiencing the effects of four tech trends changing public expectations and behavior.

In this recording, you’ll learn:

  • How new technology is impacting the public’s expectations of causes and charities
  • 4 key tech trends that will help you recruit, grow, engage, and recognize volunteers
  • Low-cost, simple tips to address common volunteer challenges using nonprofit technology

DOWNLOAD the Slides