Building Donor Trust From The Ground-Up


Guest Post by Noah Barnett

In any relationship, trust isn’t a given, it’s earned through effort. But the relationship between a donor and a nonprofit is a different animal altogether.

A donor gives your organization their hard-earned money, time, and other gifts. Sometimes, they help you fundraise or, at the very least, they help spread the word about your mission. In exchange, you give them information on their gift’s impact, send them a thank you letter, and hope they feel all those warm and fuzzy feelings because they’re doing something good for the world.

However, this entire exchange relies on a basis of trust. If your donor doesn’t trust you to be responsible with their gifts, they aren’t going to give in the first place and the vital donor engagement cycle never begins!

So, how does a nonprofit or charitable organization build trust? It all boils down to two things: transparency and accountability.

If you focus these, you’ll build a foundation that fosters a healthy, reciprocal, long-term relationship with your donors.

Defining Transparency and Accountability

First, let’s define what nonprofit transparency and accessibility are:

Nonprofit Transparency: Running your organization in a way that others can easily understand how you are using the money you are raising. Posting your 990 tax forms on your website is a good example of transparency.

Nonprofit Accountability: Making decisions that enhance your organization’s mission and can be explained to those with a vested interest, including donors, clients, and board members. There are an unlimited number of ways to show accountability, including creating and following a strategic plan.

When you keep your supporters in the loop and can explain the who, what, where, when, and why of your actions, you’re on your way to laying a great foundation.

4 Ways You Can Build On These Values

Here are 4 concrete ways you can start building trust from the ground-up today using transparency and accountability:

1.    Using Transparent Reporting Practices

Donors today are more educated than ever before about which charities they’re giving to. Couple that with the fact that more and more nonprofits are putting an emphasis on reporting, and it’s easy to see that there’s a ton of information out there about your organization.

The last thing you want is to be late to the game. Be a part of it now! In fact, a donor may assume a lack of transparent reporting/information equals a mismanaged and possibly even dishonest organization.

By using transparent reporting practices, you guarantee that your data is out there for the world (your donors) to see. Start your journey to complete transparency by doing the following:

  • Create a thorough annual report and distribute it to donors
  • Publish your tax forms on your website
  • Update your profiles on Charity Navigator and Guidestar

2.    Remaining On-Message and Being Consistent

Consumers today have a lot of opinions, especially when it comes to branding. Remember the last time Pepsi changed its label? Or how about the uproar when Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC?  Marketing and messaging really do matter when it comes to selling your “brand,” whether you’re a for-profit corporate conglomerate or tiny nonprofit.

Start by establishing a clear mission and brand. Build on your organization’s logo with a slogan and even a particular color scheme for your marketing materials. Then, remain consistent across all your media avenues online and offline.

Over time, as you build an audience of donors, volunteers, and other supporters, they’ll come to recognize your organization quickly and know where to turn to in case of questions or concerns.

3.    Asking Supporters For More Than Just Money

Giving isn’t just about money, it’s also about time and resources. Therefore, it’s important for your supporters to understand the full scope of your organization’s needs.

If you rely on pro-bono work or in-kind donations for things like professional services and supplies, then let that be known to your community. That way, they’ll better understand your work, your needs, and their role in helping achieve your overall mission.

Personal fundraising is also a great way to engage your supporters while building trust. By giving them the chance to learn about your cause and your commitment to transparency and accountability and then do something with that knowledge (fundraise), they’re solidifying their connection to your efforts.

Plus, engagement opportunities like this can eventually have a ripple effect, helping your bottom line. After all, people are much more likely to give to your cause if their friends and family are saying good things about your work.

4.    Showing Appreciation Year-Round

Use your thank you notes to show your donors how much you appreciate their efforts. But that’s not all a thank you note can do!  You can use this donor touchpoint as a way to educate your donor about their gift’s impact. A $50 donation may not seem like a lot to them, but if they know it’s going to provide one at-need child with a backpack full of school supplies, they may be more likely to give again because they know where it’s going!

  • Inform your donors of their gift’s impact such as by using an impact meter on your fundraising website or calculating a donor’s return on investment.
  • Send monthly emails or letters specifically to your donors to give them a behind-the-scenes look at what’s going on with your nonprofit or charity.
  • Enlist your clients/service recipients to join with you in thanking your donors by playing a role in an appreciation video or sending notes to your donors and other supporters.

Trust isn’t built in a day, it’s a process—and it’s up to your nonprofit to kick-start the efforts by being both transparent and accountable. There’s no time like the present to ramp up your efforts!

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About the Author

Noah Barnett is the Marketing at CauseVox. Prior to CauseVox, Noah spent six and half years in fundraising and marketing leadership roles at World Help and The Adventure Project. He knows firsthand the challenges nonprofits face, and is passionate about equipping them with the resources and insights they need to rally people around their cause.

Photo Credit: adhiha