In my last post, I discussed some of the highlights from recent reports about the impact of celebrities and data on Millennial donors. My conclusion was that building trust with your constituents is the closest you can find to a silver bullet for fundraising—not slick online tools or celebrity endorsements. But how do you go about building that trust? It doesn’t just happen with the flip of a switch.
Passive Ways to Build Trust
There are many different ways to build trust, but some of them are passive—or rather, they become the foundation for more active trust-building communications or engagement.
Share Your Data
Sites like GreatNonprofits make it easy for people who are interested in learning about your organization’s data and history to find that information. Do not assume that if a potential donor or volunteer wants to learn about your work, impact, and financial situation that they will download a massive annual report and read it in their free time. Instead, make your information—both qualitative and quantitative—easy to find and digest on your website. Share stories of your impact, but make the numbers just as accessible.
Connect Your Presence
It doesn’t take many clicks for someone to get lost on the web—we’ve all experienced that! So make it easy for people to find out more about you wherever they come across your presence online. Ensure that your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and any other online entities include a link back to your organization’s website. Even better, create a welcome page designed especially for people who find you in social media and may not know about your work (often, the homepage is just a generic introduction). For example, my Twitter bio links to a welcome page instead of my website’s home page. This personalized introduction can build trust; it can also increase engagement by providing relevant calls to action on the very first click.
Allow for Feedback
I’m sure you have a Contact Us page. But does it just list the info@ email? Does it only include an email web form? What about your Staff page? Does it list the email addresses or phone numbers of individual staff? How about program information on your website? Does it mention which staff actually work on those programs and how to connect with them? These are all opportunities to gather feedback and build transparency.
Active Ways to Build Trust
Empower Community Advisors
Form a community advisory team that can provide feedback, ideas, direction, and even leadership or organizing support. This doesn’t have to be something that creates more work for your staff—often, it is a group of people who are already giving regular feedback, or that you or your staff send updates to or check in with anyway. Simply formalize the role and connect them with each other. Try inviting them all into the office once per quarter for a lunch to discuss new ideas, or to respond to possible new initiatives or programs. Create an email list for them and your staff or leaders so that connecting and discussing new ideas can be as easy as possible.
Hold Open Discussions
Releasing your annual report? Did you just secure some new funding? Launching a new program or campaign? Announce it to the community with an invitation to join an open conference call where you will provide information, allow people to ask questions, and so on. Even if there isn’t a huge turn out on the call, you can record it and provide it on the website for others to listen to in the future. Showing that you are available and transparent about your operations will build trust in real time both on that call and going forward.
Connect Program Staff with Community
As much as making your organization’s leadership accessible builds trust, it’s even more important that the program staff (those driving and building the day to day impact of your programs and services) are connected directly with the community. It can take many shapes: monthly community calls, regular open house events, staff interviews and blog posts (be sure you allow for comments), or regular program updates. As just one example, Meyer Memorial Trust has an ongoing series called Two Way Street Tour, where program officers from the foundation travel to different parts of the state and meet with the nonprofit community (both grantees and others not funded by the foundation) to share Meyer’s work and vision and also—this is the two way street part—learn all they can about what groups are doing locally.
How has your organization become more transparent, open, and trustworthy?