By Sandy Wiegand, Copyeditor and Writer at Joining Vision and Action

Let’s start with the good news. Charities are the most trusted institutions in the United States, according to a recent survey.

People trust the nonprofit sector more than businesses, banks, the media, government (a lot more than government), and even organized religion. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, trust in American institutions has been waning across the board. So “most trusted” still means that just 19 percent of people surveyed rated charities a “9” or “10” on a scale where 10 means “completely trust.”

Meanwhile, most respondents (73 percent) say it’s very important that they trust a particular charity before they donate to it. No surprise there.

Accomplishments and evaluation

So, what makes people trust charities? Given nine choices and allowed to pick up to three, respondents chose the following two answers the most:

  • Accomplishments shared by the organization (44 percent)
  • Third-party evaluation by an independent organization (39 percent)

These answers were chosen even more than financial ratios; that is, spending on fundraising and administration versus programs. (The report notes that the public still prefers “fiscal frugality and conservative compensation” at charities, but its authors add a reality check, commenting that “excessive focus on low overhead spending can be misguided and arguably harmful” to nonprofits.)

In a separate question, survey takers were asked to write in the top reasons to trust a charity. The three most common responses were:

(1) the charity’s reputation,

(2) the organization’s honesty and transparency, and

(3) the donor’s ability to verify information about the organization through research and credentials.

Information and transparency

Overall, the survey’s responses point to the importance that potential donors place on access to information about particular nonprofits, and on nonprofits’ transparency. And survey respondents indicated that one specific way to provide information that potential donors will see as objective is through third-party evaluations.

Annual reports rated ‘very important’

Another tip from the Donor Trust Report: In determining whether a charity deserves a donation, 60 percent of survey respondents rated it very important that the charity makes an annual report on their activities and finances available to the public. Task seem overwhelming? If so, look to JVA for expertise in creating an attractive, compelling annual report that will attract donors and make you look good.

JVA has performed hundreds of program and process evaluations. We’ve always seen our work as empowering our clients, and’s Donor Trust Report shows one way this occurs.

Expertly performed evaluation provides nonprofits with the tools and evidence they need to tell their stories and to secure donors.

Check out more blogs by Sandy.