Trust. Credibility. Confidence. They’re all vital to an organisation’s success, take time and effort to build and – as the UK’s two most recent ex-Prime Ministers discovered to their detriment – once they’re lost, they’re incredibly difficult to win back.
The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer paints a bleak picture of the world – one which is “ensnared in a vicious cycle of distrust, fuelled by a growing lack of faith in media and government”.
Charities aren’t immune, either, with the general lack of trust being exacerbated by high-profile crises like the Oxfam staff sex scandal in 2018 and the cash-for-honours investigation into the Prince’s Foundation. While they don’t come off quite as badly as governments or the media, Edelman charts a clear decline of trust in NGOs in the UK, Australia and the USA.
Likewise, the UK Charity Commission’s Public trust in charities report 2022 describes a “stubbornly persistent scepticism regarding how [charities] spend their money and how they behave.”
So what can charities do to help them build trust?
If you want to connect and build trust with your supporters, employees and the people you want to serve, it’s important to show them that your organisation shares their values and beliefs.
People are drawn to organisations that share their values – especially in the charity sector, where 75 per cent of donors cite belief in a cause as the key influence behind their giving, and 71 per cent say they are motivated by their religious values.
Charities often show their values by engaging in social and cultural debates and playing an important role in enabling social change.
But, as the Public trust in charities report makes clear, the public is divided on whether charities should get involved in these debates. If you don’t have a good understanding of your key audiences’ values, you could risk alienating them by speaking out.
So, it pays to study and segment your audiences, and have conversations with stakeholders, to better understand their values and the issues they believe you should be engaging in.
Conversely, if you go against the values of the people whose trust you rely on, you can easily find yourself in the worst kinds of crises.
In an age of fake news, establishing your organisation as a source of trustworthy information is the most important way to build trust.
Both what you say, and how you say it, have a significant impact on your reputation. Ensure any public statements you make are based on sound reasoning and evidence – particularly if you’re managing change or speaking out on a controversial issue.
And don’t fall into the trap of thinking journalists and their audiences won’t notice you trying to hide something or gloss over important details. They are very likely more savvy than you think, and in today’s information-at-your-fingertips age, they will find you out.
While charities occasionally find themselves in the media spotlight, they don’t usually face the same public scrutiny as governments, so it’s up to charity communicators to proactively show that their organisation is living up to its stakeholders’ expectations.
Demonstrating impact is key to winning trust, says the Public trust in charities report: “Those who make regular donations or contributions to charity are more likely to trust the charity in question if they are given clear, regular updates about the impact their support is having.
“This also helps to reassure members of the public that money is being spent effectively.”
While it may be easier for smaller, local charities, who are closer to the people they serve, to show impact, the report says there is particular onus on larger charities to deliberately demonstrate both impact and ethical conduct “at every turn.”
As the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite, charities – like governments – have vital work to do on behalf of the communities they are here to support. If you’re a charity leader seeking to do that work well, you’ll need the trust of both donors and the people you are seeking to help.
By taking action on the issues which matter to your stakeholders and communicating your impact honestly and regularly, you can demonstrate that their trust is deserved.
Written by Sarann Buckby, Reputation Management Lead, Jersey Road PR
Securing local media coverage is an excellent way to raise your profile in your community, build trust and encourage people to take action. Here are five steps to help you get great local media coverage: