NGOs continue to be the most trusted institution in the world. And, yet…


The 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer came out a couple of days ago. In a global environment of declining trust of the key institutions they focus on (government, business, media and NGOs), NGOs continue to shine. In fact, NGOs have been the most trusted global institution in the Edelman study every year since at least 2008.

View their 2015 presentation for all the info:

Take a look through some of their findings. There are interesting and useful lessons for Canadian NGOs there. A few highlights (to me, anyway):

In terms of who you trust, Edelman looks at two groups – content creators (or authors): “trust in information created by each author on social networking sites, content sharing sites and online-only information sources,” and spokespeople.

Among content creators, friends and family come first (which, let’s be honest, may well indicate why so many of us are so ill informed…). An academic expert is the second most trusted. Which suggests, as so many NGOs focus on, evidence-based policy is still very important, useful and influential (although, arguably, typically consistently ignored by our government policy-making-overloads, especially at the federal level).

Among spokespeople, academic or industry experts come first, then a company technical expert (which is really, really interesting when you factor in the decline in trust in businesses, in general), then a person like yourself (i.e. family or friends), and then NGO representatives. Interestingly, trust in NGO representatives actually went up globally from 54% to 56%, in spite of trust in NGOs going down.

trustinbusandgovTrust in Canadian government is down only slightly (What? Really? I know…) from 51% to 49%. Trust in local/provincial vs federal government is slightly higher (53% to 50%), which isn’t all that surprising. But, wow, we really, really stopped trusting business in Canada – down from 62% to 47% this year.

Globally, in all business sectors Edelman looked at, those polled indicated that they would like to see more government regulation of business.

Interestingly, Canada is one of only 11 countries that are below 50% in trust of both government and business.

There are some voids of potential for NGOs to fill, don’t you think? An opportunity for us to jack this news and show how NGOs have the leadership, ideas and innovation Canadians should be paying attention to?
16keytrustattributesEdelman’s 16 key attributes to building trust are certainly worth a look at by all NGOs. There’s a lot of common sense there, and some good attributes we should all be aspiring to in our work and leadership.

Edelman Canada hasn’t posted a Canadian deep dive of the data yet, but you can see their thoughts on trust on their site.

One really, super incredibly, fascinatingly disconnecting conclusion about why trust in NGOs decreased slightly this year, globally, is: “”There’s a feeling that NGOs are now acting too much like business. They’re too focused on fundraising and the money,” Ed Williams, chief executive of Edelman UK and Ireland, said at the launch of the public relations firm’s 15th annual trust survey.”

I had to read that a couple of times. Seriously. After literally decades of being pounded and hounded by the message to be “more like a business” there’s a sense now that NGOs might be too successful at that?

Truly dizzying.

Charities in Canada and the Big ChillNGOtrustcanada

Globally, trust in NGOs declined as well, down from 66% of those polled trusting, to 63%. In Canada, however, trust stayed the same, at 67%.

However, in Canada, there’s a current chill on NGOs, particularly charities, by the federal government. For some commenters, it appears to be a concerted campaign to discredit charities that have been vocal critics about government policy: “The CRA’s special political-activity audit on charities was announced by the government in 2012. Critics say it has unfairly targeted charities whose goals don’t line up with Harper government policy.”

Is it at all possible that part of this chill comes as a result of the overwhelming trust Canadians have in NGOs over government and business? Regardless, it seems like something Canadian NGOs can more actively celebrate and harness.

So, why aren’t NGOs celebrating this trust?

I’ve written about a couple of previous Edelman Trust Barometer reports previously – 2012  and 2014.

I’m not sure how seriously the Trust Barometer is taken. This year it was announced at the Davos World Economic Forum, so I assume it’s got some profile among global influencers. But, what confuses me every year is the complete lack of booming coverage from NGO groups, influencers, bloggers, etc.

I mean, a respected global PR firm is telling the world, since at least 2008, NGOs are the most trusted institution in the world. And, what are we doing with this victory? As far as I can tell, nothing.

I find that incredibly bizarre.

I’m going to quote myself from last year, because my concern about us not harnessing this excellent news remains: “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?”

Clearly, I’m not the influencer to make this happen. But, some of you are. Could you do something with this good news? Please? Pretty please?

(images are screenshots of slide from Edelman Trust Barometer presentation slidedeck. Check out the main presentation deck and other presentations, including country-specific presentations)

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