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Donors relying less on trust when giving to charity, study finds

November 11, 2020

Keyboard with a heart key and a key printed DONATE

Reprinted from PND.

The importance that donors place on trust before they make a giving decision has eroded in each of the past three years, a report from, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, finds.

Based on surveys of more than 2,100 adults conducted in December 2017, 2018, and 2019 and of more than 1,000 surveyed in March and August 2020, the 2020 Donor Trust Report: The Pandemic and a Three-Year Retrospective (60 pages, PDF) found that the share of respondents who rated the importance of trusting a charity before making a gift as essential fell from 73 percent in 2017, to 69.8 percent in 2018, to 65.4 percent in 2019 and 63.6 percent in 2020. According to the report, older donors were more likely to place high importance on trust as a factor in their giving decisions, including 79.5 percent of “matures” and 81.7 percent of boomers, compared with 53.2 percent of millennials and 50 percent of Gen Zers. And respondents who put a high priority on trust were more likely to donate than those who didn’t (75.2 percent vs. 65.2 percent).

The surveys also found that the share of respondents who said assessing a charity’s trustworthiness was “easy” declined between 2019 and 2020, with the largest drops among African-American (24.4 percent to 15.1 percent) and Latinx (from 25.6 percent to 9.9 percent) donors. Among the indicators most commonly used to assess a charity’s trustworthiness, the 2020 survey showed that third-party evaluations (36 percent, up from 32 percent in 2019) and name recognition (34 percent, up from 28 percent) has overtaken milestones shared by the organization (30 percent, down from 50 percent), while the use of financial ratios has fallen steadily since 2017 (18.6 percent, down from 35 percent).

According to the report, while charities continued to be viewed as more trustworthy than other sectors and institutions, including organized religion, banks, business, media, and government, they were “highly trusted” by only 16.8 percent of respondents, down from 19 percent in 2017. In addition, the share of respondents who reported giving to a nonprofit that was not a house of worship fell in 2019, to 57.7 percent, from 68 percent in 2017, while the percentage saying they intended to give more in 2020 fell from 30.8 percent in March to 24.4 percent in August, with a significant drop seen among Gen Z respondents (60.8 percent to 41.7 percent). Among those who said they planned to give less to charity in 2020, 54.5 percent said they needed to be conservative “because a lot is uncertain this year,” while 48.3 percent said they had lost income due to the pandemic.

“Charity trust is important because it leads to engagement and giving,” said BBB president and CEO H. Art Taylor. “Our research shows that individuals who attribute low importance to trust are less likely to donate. ... We suspect that some donors are influenced by a broader unease about the trustworthiness of institutions generally. However, there may be other shifting giving attitudes at play. For instance, age is a factor, as our findings show that younger generations attribute less importance to trust before giving.”

2020 Donor Trust Report: The Pandemic and a Three-Year Retrospective.” BBB Wise Giving Alliance report, 11/09/2020.

BBB's study shows importance of trust before giving is eroding.” BBB Wise Giving Alliance press release, 11/09/2020.

Tags: Giving