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June 25, 2022
Trust in Nonprofits Fell During Pandemic, Still Strongest in U.S.

May 20, 2022 — While a majority of Americans say they trust nonprofit organizations more than any other major non-religious institution, that level of trust fell during the COVID pandemic, a newly published study examining the factors driving trust in nonprofits and philanthropy reports.

According to the third annual Trust in Civil Society, published by Independent Sector, a national organization that works to strengthen the charitable sector:

  • Today 56% of Americans say they have high in trust nonprofits, down a statistically significant 3-points from the 2020 benchmark study (59%). Philanthropy trust edged down from 36% to 34% during the same period, but this difference is not statistically significant.

  • Only small businesses are similarly trusted by a majority (53%) of the public. Less than one-third say they have high trust in government (local, state, and federal), large corporations, and the news media.

  • Americans rating their current financial situation as excellent or good were 17 points and 20 points more likely to express high trust in nonprofits and philanthropy, respectively.

  • Having a college degree is more predictive of trust in the sector than any other demographic variable analyzed. When education and finances are controlled, respondents’ race is not a predictor of trust in nonprofits or philanthropy, with the notable exception of Black Americans who have slightly higher than average trust compared to other groups.

Integrity and purpose contribute most to trust for both nonprofits and philanthropy, according to the report, based on interviews with 3,015 people. Distrusters in both sectors cited perceived mismanagement of funds and instances of corruption and scandals.

“Neutral trusters say financial transparency and proof of impact is necessary for them to see an organization as trustworthy,” the report notes. “Public figure endorsements, communicating clear organizational mission and values, and demonstrating results remain the top drivers of trust for nonprofits and philanthropy.”

For the purposes of the report, nonprofits can include churches and religious organizations, historic societies and museums, health and human services organizations, animal or environmental groups, and groups that help veterans, and philanthropy can include corporate philanthropy, private foundations, or high net worth individuals engaged in philanthropic efforts.

Other key findings highlighted in the report include the following:

  • 61% of Americans donated money to a nonprofit or cause within the last 12 months, 58% donated goods, and 43% volunteered time.

  • 78% say, ”Nonprofits must earn my trust before I support them.”

  • Reasons why the 56% who say they have high trust in nonprofits include: belief in the nonprofit’s mission, perceived altruistic motivations, personal experiences with the organization, and awareness of the organization’s proven track record.
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