Generic filters
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in excerpt

Dane Shumak, CFRE, BBA

About Dane

Trust, the Fake News Era, and Nonprofits

The Impact of the Fake News Era on Nonprofits is Dangerous to Ignore

Just the words “fake news” are enough to send fingers a-Googlin’ to verify sources, or to find counter-arguments. History will look at 2018 as the year of failing trust in institutions, and as a year of increasing polarization of opinions. It is a difficult time to represent a public, mission-driven organization.

Regardless of your political bent, as fundraisers we need to acknowledge the unbelievable impact this could potentially have on our institutions. Sadly, we do not live in vacuums, and at times of great turmoil such as these, we need to take a magnifying glass to our practices to address the key concerns of our donors – before our donors raise them with us.

Being proactive, honest, and thoughtful, it seems, is a significant way to ensure that your donor base feels that your institution is one that is going to hold them – and their trust! – in the highest regard.

Why is Trust Important for Your Nonprofit Organization?

This seems like it’s obvious, and yet when was the last time you analyzed your implicit and explicit biases that are informed by either conscious or unconscious (mis)trust?

My mother used to tell me growing up that “it takes a long time to build trust, and just one bad decision to break it. Be wise!”

When we turn up the volume on trust, things happen more seamlessly – and we don’t even realize it. When trust is present, both verbal and nonverbal communication markers are more clearly understood and received, there are fewer concerns regarding an individual’s or an organization’s actions, and the implicit understanding of why one might be doing something improves.

When things go wrong, if there is a trusting relationship, donors are much less likely to jump to snap judgments, allow bias into the mix, or cut ties with an organization.

Not only is trust foundational to relationships with organizations – it has an impact on the bottom line, too. According to Deloitte, brands that stagnated in building consumer trust and recognition saw revenues fall 13 percent year-over-year in comparison to those that worked to build brand. And yet, just 17 percent of marketing professionals felt that brand-building was their most important objective.

By not actively focusing on trust-building as a regular activity, organizations are missing something fundamental; at our core, human beings are still very much driven by instinct and emotion. Our caveperson instincts tell us, whether we are aware of it or not, that when we trust something it means it isn’t going to hurt us.

How Is This Impacting Our Donors?

Trust in institutions, both public and private, is at an all-time low. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey of thousands of individuals from over 25 countries, 2018 saw the single largest recorded drop in trust of all-time in the United States, with trust dropping a whopping 23 points to a barometer index of just 45 percent. Similarly, in the United States, nonprofit institutions saw their trust numbers plunge nine points, from 58 percent in 2017 to 49 percent in 2018. While this drop is markedly lower than what was felt by the government, media, and business, it is still an astonishing figure when taken into consideration.

In Canada and the United Kingdom, similar phenomena are taking place in the nonprofit sector. In a recent study completed by the Rideau Hall Foundation studying 30 years of giving patterns among Canadians, 29 percent of those surveyed identified not trusting institutions to spend their money properly as a reason to not give. Even more astonishingly, of those who said they did not trust an institution to spend their money properly, 61 percent identified as the primary barrier to giving the institution’s failure to simply explain where their money is going. In the United Kingdom, net trust in charitable institutions dropped 6 percent to 54 percent from 2017 to 2018. Simply put, the Fake News Era has shown that there is a trust vacuum present in modern society, and that charitable institutions are not immune to it.

Other issues identified by donors in numerous surveys include predatory fundraising practices, the increases in reported instances of sexual assault in the fundraising industry, and concerns regarding data practices as further reasons for declining trust in charities.

Does This Impact My Nonprofit Organization?

Yes, absolutely.

If your organization is not regularly analyzing its fundraising practices, its privacy and data governance, its security, and its policies, you should absolutely consider starting initiatives. Recent industry initiatives like the AFP Fellowship in Inclusion and Philanthropy and compliance with laws such as the European Union General Data Protection Regulation are not just becoming “nice-to-haves” in the eyes of donors, but key measurements of your institution’s preparedness to develop and maintain the trust of its stakeholders in increasingly divisive and trying times.

According to Thomas J. Watson, “the toughest thing about the power of trust is that it's very difficult to build and very easy to destroy.”

The future of your organization’s fundraising program might depend on it.


Copyright © 1992-2020 CharityChannel LLC.



  1. Linda Lysakowski on July 31, 2018 at 10:11 am

    Great article, Dane. Speaking of fake news, there is a meme circulating on Facebook about the salaries of nonprofit executives which is some cases is downright untrue and, in other cases, incomplete and misleading. Every time it comes around I tell people to check sources like GuideStar and Charity Navigator The average person does not understand the nonprofit sector at all.

    • Dane Shumak on August 1, 2018 at 1:13 pm

      Linda - I agree. Plus, nonprofit executives do incredible work for significantly less salary, benefits, or options than their private sector counterparts (despite being no less qualified than they are!)

      Trust has to go both ways - that when an organization does good work, it needs the right/best people, and it needs to pay them an acceptable wage for their talents!

Leave a Comment