Shelley Feist

Trust: Five Developments Nonprofits Should Know About

In the US, trust in nonprofits is down 5 points from 2021. Trust declined for all sectors in 2022.

Trust is a powerful currency for all organizations. 

Since 2001, the Edelman Trust Barometer (ETB) has conducted an annual global study of trust by sector.  

The 2022 ETB and other recent research contains important take-aways for the US nonprofit sector.

Trust in the nonprofit sector (actually, all sectors) down in the US

1) In every institutional measure, trust is down in the United States, according to the ETB.

  • Business down 5% to 49%
  • Nonprofits down 5% to 45%
  • Government down 3% to 39%
  • Media down 6% to 39%

Trust has fluctuated by sector over time, of course, but the concerning development in this report is trust being down for all sectors simultaneously.

Nonprofits are viewed as competent

2) Nonprofits continue to maintain positive scores in competence and ethics, according to the 2022 ETB.

Individual trust is unequal and remote work may corrode trust among colleagues

3) Interpersonal trust is arrayed unequally in the United States, based on a pre-pandemic report, Trust and Distrust in America (2019)

When it comes to personal trust, levels are associated with race and ethnicity, age, education and household income. It is arrayed unequally, and Americans who might feel disadvantaged are less likely to express generalized trust in other people.

Recent research from the Netherlands, as featured in the article, The End of Trust, in The Atlantic, indicates that separation during the pandemic due to remote working may be affecting levels of trust between co-workers.

Older people guide the way on trust

4) The “highest trusting” are our elders – people over age 65. (Trust and Distrust in America, 2019)

37% of people over age 65 are “high trusters” while just 11% of people age 18-29 fall in this category.

What about financial support and volunteerism?

5) The overall rate of giving and volunteerism remains below pre-pandemic levels, according to a December 2021 Gallup Poll of 811 Americans.

While giving rates were up in 2021, volunteering was down. The rate of volunteering has steadily declined since 2013 when it peaked at 65 percent.  The average age of a volunteer in the US is 42.

What can your nonprofit organization do to build trust?

Independent Sector’s 2021 Nonprofit Sector Health Report says “research shows nonprofits can strengthen trust by conveying integrity and clarity of purpose.”

Richard Edelman said recently that it is possible to break a cycle of distrust and rebuild public trust through factual information and demonstrable progress.

As a nonprofit executive director I always felt the most important actions I could focus on at any given time were those that helped to build trust in the organization.

Over the next several weeks I’ll be posting more on trust, integrity and the important opportunities nonprofit organizations have to show up as powerful and factual information sources for their communities.

P.S. I’m committed to helping nonprofit organizations find their own way to contribute to strengthening public trust through how they communicate their mission and purpose.  Schedule a discovery call with me or email me at and we’ll set up a call.

P.S.S.  – More art to lift the nonprofit executive spirit!

A ballot initiative to increase funding for arts education in schools is in the works in California. 

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