The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

Trust: The Currency of Civil Society

Trust, not money, is the true currency of civil society. But Lord knows that nonprofit leaders spend so much time focusing on money.

Raising money. Fueling programs. Making payroll. Nonprofit leaders spends a good deal of each waking day focused on money. It may be what wakes us up in those early morning hours when we would like to be in restful sleep but find ourselves in thought.

To paraphrase Tina Turner, “what’s trust have to do with it?”


Raising money for charitable purposes creates a dilemma for a prospective donor. Someone representing some organization is asking for money to help someone else. The purchaser of charitable goods and services is divorced from the consumer of those goods or services.

In a regular consumer transaction, the purchaser and the consumer are one and the same. When the experience is satisfying, the consumer may be willing to repeat the purchase. When the experience is not, we often complain to our friends and warn them about the experience.

In a giving transaction, the feedback loop on the experience is missing to reinforce the positive experience or to alert the donor in a negative experience.

So what’s a savvy donor/consumer to do?

My colleague Put Barber has some pithy advice. “Don’t give to strangers.”

By that he means — know the organization, volunteer for them, learn about what they do and how they do their work. Don’t give to organizations that you don’t know, haven’t volunteered with, haven’t learned anything about.

Let me translate — build trust in the organizations that you support.

What this means for nonprofit leaders, of course, is that we are in the trust business.

We need for donors to trust that their money is well managed in an efficient organization that safeguards against waste and theft.

We need for donors to trust that their money is invested in well run programs that measure the impact that they create. Yes, we are in the creating change business too.

Nonprofit leaders build trust with their donors by sharing information about their programs and their accomplishments. Sharing information builds trust.

It’s our point of view that nonprofit leaders need to share this rich, detailed and timely information online at their own website or through third party sites, like GuideStar. We detail more recommendations in our report, The State of Nonprofit Transparency, 2008.

Why share information online? Because that’s where many donors are looking for this information.

A recent study commissioned by the San Diego Foundation called “The Appreciated Sector” shows that about a third of donors in the San Diego area go online to research before they give. Looking for information on the nonprofit’s Web site is the first place these donors check.

You want money. First, build trust.

You want to build trust. Share information online about what you do and how your organization makes a difference.


Topics: Fundraising