In NGO’s we trust

I came across the release of the yearly Edelman Trust Barometer recently and was happy to see how NGOs faired.

I found praise for NGOs a bit muted. Watch.

“The role of NGOs is not to lead in the solution, it is to partner with the major actors, such as business or government, in making sure that the solution is apt. NGOs are convenors, they’re also motivators, and they’re also able to check on compliance. That’s the key role for civil society. But do that, in a way, in partnership as well as a constructive critic, of business and government.”

Of course we lead. And, of course we seek solutions. We even come up with them! The “constructive critic” part. That’s solid. But, not to lead? No wonder trust of corporate CEOs has fallen so sharply in this year’s Trust Barometer… 🙂

NGOs are engines of innovation, growth, policy insight, experimentation, entrepreneurism, critical thought, leadership, management models connection, humanity and humility. Ah, yes, humility. It’s expected of us, isn’t it? We’re just “convenors”, we “check on compliance”, right?


Every other sector in this study (i.e. business, government, media, etc.) has much to learn from us. Gone are the days when business told NGOs to be more like them.

Umm, no thanks.

It’s time that this message gets turned on its head. It’s time for NGOs to tell business how much THEY have to learn from US. Check out Maytree’s (where I work) Five Good Ideas project for some of our sector’s brilliance).

NGOs = socioeconomic impact

According to Imagine Canada, Canada’s nonprofit and voluntary sector is the 2nd largest in the world, the sector represents $79.1 billion or 7.8% of the GDP (larger than the automotive or manufacturing industries), and there are an estimated 161,000 nonprofits and charities in Canada.

We’re huge, we’re here, and we have important impact on communities across the country. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that this is the same, or becoming the same across the globe.  And, when the economy worsens because our captains of industry and government sink the ship, we’re here to pick up the pieces.

And, yet, the non-profit sector keeps getting smacked harder by government, business, the 1%, so to speak (don’t worry, no rant about all that, today anyway).

“Non-profits are the quintessential adjunct to public services that simply cannot cope. They provide alternative resources to myriad needs to the majority of people who, for whatever reason, cannot access costly private services.”

Of course we’re trusted! Why are we trusted (by the way, Edelman’s 16 attributes of trust are quite revealing, worth a look)?

The “people” rely on us to help when CEOs and government leaders make the ridiculous choices they do, many times in spite of hard working, policy studying, voices-of-reason NGO advice. It’s not hard to see why, this year, trust in NGOs hasn’t fallen.

Gotta keep getting the message out

Regardless, it’s also interesting that “traditional” media has seen a surge in trust. Much emphasis is put on social media in our sector these days. Edelman talks about diversification of media sources, which we should always keep in mind. We need and should be using every media tool at our disposal to get the word out and provide service. However, we should not forget that traditional media matters immensely to NGOs. Traditional media reach is massive, comments run into the thousands on articles. Getting an OpEd piece in a major newspaper, getting on TV news, being interviewed on the radio, all have tremendous impacts on our voice and trust.

If media is trusted more than our own communications (kind of makes sense), we need to make sure our messages make it into as many channels as possible, right?

It’s also interesting that the report talks about “the number of times people need to hear something to believe it. Against the backdrop of increased skepticism, 63 percent say between three and five times…, which represents a four-point uptick over last year.”

Clearly, Toronto’s mayor is listening to this message, loud and clear… But that’s another story.

And, so, I repeat

In the spirit of repetition, allow me to reiterate.

NGOs are trusted. We do important work. We are part of and responsive to our communities. Dude, we rock.

Stephen Goldsmith, former Mayor of Indianapolis and former Deputy Mayor of New York, gets it (kudos to Edelman for including his perspective – note to Edelman: you might want to move it higher on the page…)

“The NGO is part of the fabric of the community. It is us. It’s our group, it’s our community. And to the extent that government can partner with the NGO, then it develops a relationship with the community that it, government, can’t create. And, so you’ve got legitimacy, which comes from the NGO, and resources, which come from the government, and it’s one way to bridge the trust factor that’s very powerful.”

Love it.

We should be trusted. Of course, Richard Edelman is correct to say “NGOs should not be self satisfied.” We should never sit back on our laurels. But, NGOs don’t, do we? We don’t have the resources to be able to!

Decades of innovation, human development and working tirelessly to make the world a better place is what we’re all about. Revealing truth in corporate/government spin is what we’re about. Recommending policy change for the better is what we’re all about. Providing service to those in need is what we’re all about. Of course we can always improve. But, we’re pretty awesome, aren’t we?

We are so much more than he wants you to believe.

But, really, how much can you really trust a CEO anyway? 😉

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