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Financial Planning > Charitable Giving

Few Americans Say Charities Are Highly Trustworthy

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Public trust in American institutions has been eroding in recent years, and a recent report indicates that these includes charitable organizations.

Although 73% of Americans consider it very important to trust a charity before giving, only 19% say they highly trust charities and just 10% are optimistic that the sector will become more trustworthy over time, according to a new research from the Better Business Bureau’s, a standards-based charity evaluator.

“We rely on charities to solve some of society’s most challenging problems and it is startling to learn only a small percentage of Americans highly trust charities,” H. Art Taylor, president and chief executive of BBB’s, said in a statement.

“This report shows the need to strengthen public trust in the charitable sector, and reminds us that the ability of charitable organizations to thrive in the future is closely tied to their ability to understand how rising — and more diverse — generations think about trust, engagement and generosity.”

The report was based on an electronic survey of some 2,100 U.S. adults conducted last December, and on secondary research on charitable donations and on donor expectation data gathered by Gallup in 1993 and Princeton Survey Research Associates in 2001.

The research showed that survey respondents rated religious organizations most favorably, followed by animal welfare and civil rights and community action groups.

Not-for-profit hospitals and health organizations experienced the biggest upward shift in public trust perception between 2001 and 2017, while educational groups and police and firefighter organizations saw a falloff in perceived public trust.

The report said older generations and white respondents put much more emphasis on a nonprofit’s trustworthiness before giving, and tended to be less trusting of charities overall than minorities and younger generations.

These, the report said, were likelier to rely heavily on engaging stories and perceived sincerity and passion in a charity’s appeal when making giving decisions.

Thirty-two percent of millennials surveyed and 45% of Gen Z respondents said passion and sincerity were a top perceived signal of trust, compared with only 9% of poll participants ages 72 to 89.

The research also found that racial minorities and younger generations were more likely to perceive verifying trust in a charity as “easy,” suggesting that these groups were less likely to carefully vet a charity before giving.

Eleven percent of respondents expressed a wish to be approached by charitable groups, while 22% said they might give more if approached. Again, generational and racial differences were factors here.

Two-thirds of Gen Z donors said they would like to be approached or would give more if this happened, compared with 7% of those 72 to 89. Likewise, 56% of African-American respondents, compared with 24% of white ones, were open to being approached by charities.

Asked what types of donations they wanted to increase in the future, younger respondents were disinclined to raise their monetary donations, but indicated an above-average desire to attend charitable events, support good business or social enterprise, raise awareness by engaging their networks and invest in donor-advised funds.


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