On trust and NGOs


Two years ago I wrote a post about the Edelman Trust Barometer and how NGOs were the most trusted institution globally.

Recently their 2014 Barometer came out and NGOs remain the most trusted institution. This seems to have been the case for many years. Trust in government is declining. Trust in business is higher than government, but still lower than NGOs. Trust in NGOs in Canada even declined a bit this year (see image above), but we’re still more trusted than everyone else.

That’s something great, isn’t it!

NGOs are non-governmental organizations – nonprofits and charities. In Canada, we’ve seen environment NGOs come under fire from the federal government. In an area such as the environment it’s clear that trust is an important and huge issue. Not surprising that the government might go after these groups, given their opposition to the tarsands, oil pipelines and destruction of science libraries. Not surprising when you consider that many Canadians trust ENGOs more than the government. Despicable, but not surprising…

Other surveys, such as the Muttart Foundation’s Talking About Charities, confirm this level of trust:

“Fully 93% of Canadians believe that charities are important to Canada! 79% of those surveyed trust us and that is way beyond the trust levels that they have for various levels of government, the media and corporations. Only small business does slightly better than charities at 81%. That’s not bad!

And what I found really heartening is that the highest levels of trust come from young Canadians. Now that is a real myth buster for me. How often have I heard that this new generation is simply not interested in the work of charities, that they see us as old hat and unresponsive to the needs of contemporary society. Well these numbers certainly go counter to that view.”

Given the historical and current trust levels for NGOs in Canada and beyond, I wonder what we’re doing with all of that social capital?

Sure, charities are afraid of speaking out on policy, even though most don’t even come close to the 10% of advocacy work they’re allowed to do under charity law. But, the fear of audits and funding cuts is very real and very dissuasive to open advocacy.

But, there must be more we can do. Let’s at least talk about the trust Canadians have in us. I see these surveys come out and no one really talking about them. Edelman doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about NGO trust. That’s fine, they’re “brand”/business oriented and will talk about how the survey can benefit their core clients.

In typical Canadian fashion, Imagine Canada tells us that we’re doing great, but have things to improve on. Of course we do. But, why not spend some time first on the celebrating and making this an information campaign about how awesome NGOs are? Why not let Canadians know what they have already told us – you trust us, you really trust us! Let’s thank them for that trust. Let’s tell them what we’re going to do with that trust and how they can be part of what we do.

Let’s at least take the data and run a little wild with it for a while, OK?

(image a screenshot of slide from Edelman Trust Barometer presentation slidedeck. View the complete deck below)

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