How to Build Trust With Your Nonprofit's Donors

October 4, 2020
4 minutes
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Building trust with your nonprofit’s donors is a key component of donor loyalty. Donors who give for years and years and yeeeeears love your cause, of course. The thing that's unspoken but implicit is that they trust how your organization is using their donations.

If they didn’t trust your nonprofit to be a good steward of their money, chances are they wouldn’t keep donating. And these days, with more organizations practicing radical transparency, donors want to know how their money was used and what impact it had.

By integrating a few key changes to your stewardship and communications, your nonprofit will be on its way to building even greater trust with its donors.

Principles of Donor Trust

Broadly speaking, when we think about the concept of trust in relationships, there are a few ways that we consistently build trust: follow-through, accountability and authenticity.

Follow-through means doing what you say you’re going to do.

When a nonprofit has been around for years (or even decades), it naturally builds up a track record of follow-through by consistently delivering its programs and services. The consistency of follow-through leads to donors trusting that when they give your organization a donation, it will be used to fulfill your mission.

Accountability means that your organization is demonstrating transparency in its responsibility and leadership.

Nonprofits tend to be accountable to many parties. The IRS, the board, the public at large, funders, and of course individual donors. Organizations that understand and respect these layers of accountability show that they aren’t disregarding their stakeholders.

Authenticity is about how your organization shows up.

Is it honest about its outcomes? Does it own its mistakes? Does it operate in integrity with its values? Does it talk about failures and successes? When it comes to donor communication, it can be tempting to paint pictures of sunshine and rainbows, but we all know it’s not like that 100% of the time. It can feel like a risk to show another facet of your organization, but in doing so, you give donors the opportunity to trust your organization in a new way.

Trust in Action

Applying the principles of donor trust to your stewardship and donor communication is a great way to deepen donor trust. Here are a few examples of what this looks like in action.

  • Thank you letters - In your thank you letters, be specific about how donations are used and what kind of impact they have. When possible, share a short story or clear example of impact.
  • Annual reports - Your organization’s annual report is a natural opportunity for accountability. What goes into your annual report should demonstrate your organization’s follow through and highlight donor impact. You can use your annual report to celebrate successes and reflect on mistakes that are informing your work moving forward.
  • Website - Donors who make a gift online are likely doing so through your website. They may click through your site to see what’s happening and read more about your nonprofit. Any pages that donors are likely to visit before they make a donation are an opportunity for your nonprofit to build trust by demonstrating accountability and transparency.

Building trust with donors is an ongoing process. It’s not a one-off that your nonprofit crosses off your to-do list and never has to think about again. It should be a concept your organization regularly considers and tries to improve upon. Engage your donors in this process through surveys and other feedback mechanisms to make it a truly collaborative process.

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