There’s Something Important You Need to Do Before You Can Raise More Money

Do you want to acquire more new donors?

Do you want to retain more existing donors?

Do you want to upgrade the support from more of your donors?

Do you want to get more planned gift commitments?

To achieve any of those goals, there’s something essential you must first do. You need to build trust. Trust is the cornerstone of all fundraising success.

Consider what noted philanthropy researchers Dr. Adrian Sargeant and Dr. Jen Shang have written on the subject:

There would appear to be a relationship between trust and a propensity to donate…. There is [also] some indication here that a relationship does exist between trust and amount donated, comparatively little increases in the former having a marked impact on the latter.”

In other words, the research demonstrates that the level of trust one has in a charity affects both willingness to give and the amount of giving.

TrustIf you’re like most fundraising professionals, you instinctively understand the importance of establishing trust. However, what are you actually doing to build and maintain it?

Sadly, many nonprofit professionals think that trust is automatic. If your organization has existed for a reasonable period of time and if it has had some demonstrable success at fulfilling its mission, fundraisers may be lulled into the belief that trust already exists. Therefore, organizations spend little effort building trust and, instead, focus their energies and resources on making funding appeals. Unfortunately, the result is usually underperformance and occasionally disaster.

As I mentioned in a recent post, a cancer charity in Scotland was involved in a major scandal several years ago. Unfortunately, the fallout from that scandal negatively affected many unrelated charities throughout Scotland as public trust in the charity sector suffered greatly. As a result, some charities reported a 30 percent downturn in contributions in the months following the controversy. To restore the public trust, Scotland’s charities and the Institute of Fundraising joined forces to get people meaningful information and provide them with assurance about the trustworthiness of the charity sector. It took several months to rebuild trust. As trust was restored, giving began to return to normal.

By investing in efforts to establish and grow trust, nonprofit organizations will yield far greater fundraising results and protect themselves from an unforeseen public relations challenge.

So, recognizing that building and growing trust is essential for success, and fragile once established, what can charities do to develop trust?

Fortunately, building trust does not have to be complicated or expensive. Sales guru Tom Hopkins identifies three simple steps:

I’m often asked how to build trust with potential clients or buyers. The extremely simple answer is to tell them what you’re going to do; do it; then tell them what you’ve done. State it. Do it. Prove it. Once you prove you do what you say you will, a foundation of trust is established.”

There are any number of ways you can apply Hopkins’ model to the fundraising world. For example, when meeting with a major donor prospect, you can tell her at the beginning of the meeting how much of her time you intend to take and what you want to accomplish during the conversation. Then, do it. If you say you want 30 minutes of her time, do not drone on for an hour. At the end of the meeting, summarize the conversation so your prospect understands that you did what you said you would do.

Another way for fundraisers to build trust is to tell prospects and donors what your organization hopes to accomplish, then make sure your organization succeeds, and finally let them know what has been achieved.

What are some of your favorite ways to build trust with prospects and donors?

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

6 Comments to “There’s Something Important You Need to Do Before You Can Raise More Money”

  1. Telling a compelling story is one of the best scientifically proven ways to establish, build and maintain trust with a nonprofit’s key stakeholders. Stories MUST be compelling and incorporate the elements that make it effective and lead to action. Richmond, Virginia based conference will show the way. Learn more at

    • Sue, thank you for sharing your insight and the link to the conference. As part of an appropriate organizational culture and an effective communications strategy, storytelling can indeed play an essential role in building and maintaining trust. That’s why I hate fictional or composite stories. Real stories are far more meaningful.

  2. Lack of trust is a powerful energy at play in the world right now, and some of your writing has application in the political scene, the world of religious and educational institutions, big business,, and public communications (the press, tv, social media). I like what you write because it is specific and practical. Having said that, I acknowledge the challenge of taking personal responsibility in a society which is accustomed to blame and distrust. Keep writing and reminding us that we can make a difference!

    • Mary, thank you for your comment and kind feedback. You’re correct to observe that nonprofit trust issues do not exist in a vacuum. In our society, there are broad trust issues at play. The default position held by the public is NOT one of trust for the nonprofit sector. The public has little trust in many institutional sectors; the charity sector has not escaped this. So, it means we have to work hard to climb out of a hole. Sadly, rightly or wrongly, stories about charities such as the Wounded Warrior Project, Planned Parenthood of America, and bogus cancer organizations erode trust in the entire nonprofit sector. The environment charities exist within makes our jobs more challenging, not less. I appreciate your broader insights.

  3. Great posting, Michael. And these three steps take time, which takes what it takes and cannot be rushed. Proving your organization is trust-worthy takes stability and delivering and communicating so to your constituents.

    • Connie, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Trust is a process not a destination. There are degrees of trust. And building and maintaining trust requires constant action. While the steps are simple, that’s not to say developing trust is easy. It takes planning and effort. It also requires an organizational culture that recognizes the importance of trust and acts accordingly. You’re quite correct when you say that building trust takes time.

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