As the end of 2010 approaches, much thought and recognition has been given to the role nonprofit organizations play around the world. Recent studies and surveys have focused on the impact and credibility that nonprofits have gained over the past decade. According to a study published by the Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University in partnership with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, 94.5% of wealthy families that support the same causes year after year report having great confidence in nonprofit organizations to solve societal and global problems.
Similarly, American Express released a survey in early November which showed that 71% of Americans trust nonprofits more than they trust companies and government institutions to solve some of the most pressing concerns of the time. The survey also showed that 88% of Americans agree that funding in today’s economic climate is a top concern for nonprofit groups.
Edelman’s Trust Barometer, also known as the trust and credibility survey, placed NGOs among the top trusted institutions, far above government institutions and corporations.
“This surge [in trust] may be attributed to a growing affluence and the resulting demand for environmental responsibility, education and public health,” stated the report. With these findings came a debate over the factors that affected this fluctuation in public opinion. Is this heightened level of trust in NGOs actually based on their positive performance, or is it only based on the poor performance of government and companies? Regardless, the public believes in the work of NGOs and continues to demonstrate their confidence through philanthropy and giving.
An additional finding provided by Edelman’s Trust Barometer put NGO representatives above CEOs and government officials on the trust scale. Interestingly, the findings have already motivated a number of CSR initiatives at various companies to invest in NGO leadership development and training.
While there is increased confidence and trust in nonprofits, the public still recognizes some important challenges and barriers to greater success for the organizations. The aforementioned American Express study showed that not only do 88% of Americans agree that funding in today’s economic climate is a top concern for nonprofit groups, but 83% believe that these organizations do not always have the resources they need to invest in their employees. 50% of those surveyed said they were interested in working for nonprofit organizations and the majority of all surveyed said they believed working for a nonprofit meant earning a smaller salary than they might otherwise earn. While these findings offer great potential for nonprofits to recruit eager employees and volunteers, they also present a challenge in finding attractive and innovative solutions to lead an organization and to maintain the passion its employees feel about their cause.
Timothy McClimon, president of the American Express Foundation, expressed his interest in the findings from the survey. “These survey results indicate a clear need for increased investment in nonprofit leadership, and support why we have been committed to dedicating our resources—both financial and intellectual—to address this important and critical issue,” Mr. McClimon announced the company will contribute $25 million over five years to its nonprofit leadership programs, making an exemplary statement in the field.
It is said that with trust comes responsibility, and nonprofits are not exempt from that understanding and duty. A study by Indiana University’s Center for Philanthropy emphasized wealthy donors’ high expectations for charitable organizations. When asked to rate a series of factors from greatest to least importance, the study participants ranked them in the following order: “Sound business and operational practices, acknowledgement of contributions, spend appropriate amount on overhead, protection of personal information and full financial disclosure”. These results demonstrate how important responsible practices are to potential donors, and can serve to drive more sound business practices into common application at nonprofit offices.
With multiple survey results to study and build upon, this upcoming year will be a challenging and exciting time for nonprofit organizations and their leaders. They have been given a golden opportunity to continue to improve upon the value of their organization while maintaining the increased trust and confidence they have enjoyed in recent years. Now is a time for continued innovation and thoughtfulness, which will hopefully contribute to the long term success and sustainability of today’s nonprofits.