Lack of trust: the key barrier to donating

Our own research shows that “I do not trust UNICEF to use my donations well” is one of the top 3 claimed reasons for not donating, together with ‘not knowing enough about what UNICEF does’, and other generic reasons such as ‘not being able to afford it’, ‘already giving to other organizations’, and ‘preferring to give people directly’. This probably sounds familiar and shows us how important Trust is when making a donation.

Why is Trust so important?

From a historical perspective, Trust has become more and more important. Mostly because it is increasingly difficult to trust the rapidly growing circle of people and institutions we don’t personally know. In primitive societies and even until the 19th century and in many places well into the 20th century, we interacted mostly face to face with people in our family and small communities.

With the development of large cities and explosion in communication and transportation technologies, our circle of close family and friends became smaller, while our (virtual) circle of personal and professional acquaintances expanded dramatically. We change jobs and residence, we write e-mails and join others on social media platforms without meeting face to face, we put our money in a place not knowing the people in charge, and most of our economic transactions are anonymous. Without trust – the expectation that others will do their job, competently and honestly – we wouldn’t be able to perform all these tasks.

Trust in Relationships

Nowadays fundraisers talk a lot about building a relationship with their donors and supporters. But still in a lot of cases this is limited to sending out appeals and newsletter. Often only talking about how important we (the charities) are.

It is not much better than a car dealer sending the obligate questionnaire, supposedly to improve their customer service. In reality the questionnaire is a Trojan horse wanting to gather as much information from you as possible in order to improve their sales.

Not exactly the way to build trusting relationships.

Trust means a firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something. So being and acting reliable and trustworthy is conditional to building trust. Showing a genuine interest in your donor’s motives is part of that.

How do you get a donor trusting an organization to make good use of his or her money.

Trust is driven by both character and competence

Recently I have been reading The speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey and it has really triggered my thinking on Trust again. Am I a trustworthy person, do I trust my boss, do donors trust us? Covey shows, how greater trust produces better results, at less cost, sooner.

Relationship Trust is all about behaviour…. consistent behaviour. Covey talks about 13 behaviours that build Trust. All 13 behaviours require a combination of both character and competence.

Character-based behaviors:

  1. Talk straight
  2. Demonstrate respect
  3. Create transparency
  4. Right wrongs
  5. Show loyalty

Competency-based behaviors:

  1. Deliver results
  2. Get better
  3. Confront reality
  4. Clarify expectations
  5. Practice accountability

Character & Competence behaviors:

  1. Listen first
  2. Keep commitments
  3. Extend trust

Communicating Trust and not just being trustworthy is critical

An auto service firm added the following statement at the end of one of their advertisements

“You can trust us to do the job for you”

As a result, research showed their Trust score to increase by 33%. Other performance areas saw a clear improvement: Competency + 33%, Quality + 30%, Fair Treatment + 20%, Caring + 11%, and Fair Price + 7%. This is particularly surprising since the company did not make any specific claim that it would do the job right, better, or quickly. It merely stated an expectation. After all, you’d expect any company to do the job it is supposed to do!

So concluding, Trust is important, even more important than most of us probably think. Covey even says it is the one thing that changes everything. You can build trust; you should communicate Trust, and not just be trustworthy.

So, if you want your donors to trust you, remind them that they CAN trust you. Make Trust second nature by practicing the 13 behaviors that drive Trust.

Try it. It will work. Trust me.

The auto service example: Original study: “On the Potential for Advertising to Facilitate Trust in the Advertised Brand” by Fuan Li and Paul W. Miniard. Summarized data can be found in About Face by Dan Hill.

Related Articles


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *