The first comprehensive poll to measure public attitudes on foundations and nonprofits shows many warning signs for nonprofits. And fundraisers like us must take heed. According to the study developed by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy:

  • Only 14 percent of Americans say they have a lot of confidence that nonprofits can solve problems.
  • Only 34% of Americans say society as a whole benefits a large amount when Americans donate money. 44% say society benefits a moderate amount. And 23% say society benefits little or not at all.
  • Americans trust nonprofits more than government or business, but levels of trust in all three sectors are low. 39% trust nonprofits. 14% trust government. 6% trust business.

We have our work cut out for us, don’t we?

My north star  — both before and after reading the results of this study — is building trust with donors and potential donors. How can I help nonprofits treat donors like real stakeholders and build trusting relationships? How can I help show the impact of donations? How can I showcase nonprofits bringing innovative solutions to big problems? How can I balance telling donors about the threats we face while also sharing the successes and opportunities we’ve helped achieve?

I don’t have all the answers. But I do think we all need to do a better job communicating impact and treating donors with respect.