In development circles we don’t talk much about trust. We when talk about donors we focus on words like “asking,” “strategies,” “engagement,” or “building relationships” (which, oddly, never seems to involve the concept of trust). But we don’t regularly focus on the need for trust. There are few, if any, conferences focused on “building trust with donors.”
But think about any human endeavor. If trust is not present, positive results rarely are enjoyed. People who either mistrust or distrust usually end up in court. Recently, I was talking with a long-time consultant who has spent his career with Fortune 500 leadership teams and he stated, “In my experience, the level of trust explains 90% of workplace outcomes.” 90% is a lot.
And I would argue that the level of trust explains a great deal of our donor outcomes as well. And there are two aspects of trust with donors that are important.
- Our donors trusting us and our institutions, and;
- Us trusting our donors.
Number 1 is simple. We all understand the concept of our donors trusting us and our institutions. It’s why we go to great lengths to create accountability metrics. And why we produce annual reports. And why show how much we spend to raise a dollar. We are attempting to create a perception that we are worthy of donor trust and, thus, their investment.
Number 2, though, is a bit more difficult. Do you trust your donors? If so, how do you evidence your trust in them? Do you regularly ask them significant questions about your institution and its plans for the future? And once you ask the questions, do you listen and respond appropriately? We ask questions and listen authentically when we trust the opinions of others. If we don’t trust their opinions, we either won’t ask the questions or we will ask but not respond to their answers.
Most donors I know want to participate in the lives of the institutions they support. They want to be closer than simply making a gift at arm’s reach. Each day, we have the opportunity to engage donors in our work. But anytime we ask someone to participate in our work, we must be willing to listen and respond to their ideas.
In other words, we need to start truly trusting donors. And when we do, we may just find that they become trusting donors.