My latest contribution to the Stanford Social Innovation Review’s opinion blog is up – you can read the post and contribute to the conversation on SSIR, or read it in full below.


In a previous post, I discussed some of the highlights from recent reports about the impact of celebrities and data on Millennial donors. The conclusion was that building trust with your constituents is the closest you can come to a silver bullet for fundraising – not slick online tools or celebrity endorsements. But, how do you go about building that trust? It doesn’t just happen with the flip of a switch, but you can start today by changing small things, and even big things, to make your organization a trusted part of the community.

Passive Ways to Build Trust

There are many different ways to build trust, but some of them are passive, or in other words, they become the foundation for more active trust-building communications or engagement.

Share your data

Sites like GuideStar and GreatNonprofits make it easy for people that are interested in learning about your organization’s data and history to find it. Do not assume that if a potential donor or volunteer wants to learn about your work, impact, and financial situation that they will download (if you even post the file) a massive annual report and read that in their free time. Instead, make your information – both qualitative and quantitative – easy to find and digest on your website. Share stories of your impact, but make the numbers just as accessible, too.

Connect your presence

It doesn’t take many clicks for someone to get lost on the web – we’ve all experienced that! So make it easy for people to find out more about you wherever they come across your presence online. Ensure that your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and any other online profile you have includes a link back to your organization’s website. Or even better, a welcome page designed for people who find you in social media and may not know about your work (often, the home page is a generic introduction). For example, my Twitter bio links to instead of my website’s home page. This can build trust, but can also increase engagement by providing relevant calls to action on the very first click.

Allow for feedback

I’m sure you have a Contact Us page. But does it just list the info@ email? Does it only include an email web form? What about your Staff page – does it actually list the email addresses or phone numbers of individual staff? Further, how about program information on your website – does it include mention of which staff actually work on those programs and how to connect with them? These are all opportunities to gather feedback and build transparency!

Active Ways to Build Trust

Empower community advisors

Form a community advisory team that can provide feedback, ideas, direction and even leadership or organizing support. This doesn’t have to be something that creates more work for your staff, but instead if it is a group of people who are already giving feedback often, or that you or your staff send updates to or check in with, simply formalize the role and connect them with each other. Try inviting them all into the office once per quarter for a lunch to discuss new ideas or respond to possible new initiatives or programs. Create an email list for them and your staff or leadership so that connecting and discussing new ideas can be as easy as possible.

Hold open discussions

Releasing your annual report? Did you just secure some new funding? Launching a new program or campaign? Announce it to the community with an invitation to join an open conference call where you will provide information, allow people to ask questions, and so on. Even if there isn’t a huge turn out on the call, you can record it and provide it on the website for others to listen to in the future. Showing that you are available and transparent about your operations will build trust in real time on that call, but also going forward.

Connect program staff with community

As much as it helps build trust by making your organization’s leadership accessible, it’s even more important that the program staff – those driving and building the day to day impact of your programs and services – are connected directly with the community. It can take many shapes: monthly community calls, regular open house events, staff interviews and blog posts (be sure you allow for comments!), or regular program updates. As just one example, Meyer Memorial Trust has an ongoing series called “Two Way Street Tour” where program officers from the foundation travel to different parts of the state and meet with the nonprofit community (both grantees, and those that are not funded by the foundation) to share Meyer’s work and vision and also (the two way street part) learn all they can about what groups are doing locally.

How has your organization become more transparent, open, and trustworthy? Do you have tips or suggestions to share with others? I’d love to hear your feedback!

New on SSIR: How to Build Trust with Your Community
Tagged on: