Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Are we in a Public-Trust Recession too?

At our June 18 Annual Forum, national expert Paul Light of New York University got people's attention. He believes there's a looming crisis of confidence in nonprofits that the sector isn't taking seriously enough.

Donors give less than they would otherwise, he says, because they feel nonprofits don't spend money wisely. Given the economy's double whammy on charities -- increased need for services while funding is threatened -- this prevailing suspicion comes at the worst possible time.

Professor Light makes his case in a compelling way (complete with comic relief, mind you). But his picture is bleaker than mine, though I do applaud his message. Human nature what it is, we tend to not act until we're convinced things are near-hopeless. I also applaud his Rx for charities to increase trust: show donors that their contributions lead to measurable, positive, substantive change.

My view: there's no doubt that we live in a skeptical era, particularly when it comes to established institutions. After all, we're treated to a steady barrage of fraud and greed news stories. So if you ask people whether an organization wastes money, they're likely to say, "Sure." But at the Council, we have daily interaction with people who trust the charities they support - they just want reassurance that their contributions will be well used. And we also have daily interaction with charities that take their donors' trust seriously and work to be transparent in all their activities.

What's your view? Do you trust charities less than you used to? If so, does it cause you to give less? In either case, do you give less because of the economy? And what can charities do to encourage you to give more?