In philanthropy trust is far more than a five-point word

The following post is authored by our partners, Debra Mesch, Ph.D., Director, and Andrea Pactor, MA, Associate Director, Women’s Philanthropy Institute

Trust Image WPI

Trust may be a five-point word in Scrabble but to nonprofits, it is priceless.  And, to women’s funds, trust in the women’s fund is a clear motivating factor for donors to support them as our new report, Giving to Women and Girls:  Who Gives, and Why? illustrates.

Researchers have long held that social capital, including trust, is an important factor in philanthropic behavior.  In our study of high net worth women who belong to a giving network, we found that high net worth women in general are more likely than their male counterparts to have a greater deal of confidence in the ability of nonprofits to solve domestic or global problems (50.4% vs. 33.8%).  The study also found that women who belong to a giving network have more confidence than women who do not belong to a network in the ability of nonprofits (54.2% vs. 47.4%) and individuals (54.5% vs. 39.9%) to solve domestic or global problems.

Now, for the first time, empirical evidence affirms that trust also matters to women’s funds donors.  Our study, Giving to Women and Girls:  Who Gives, and Why? found that donors to women’s funds saw these organizations as having particular expertise and trusted them to distribute grants effectively.

Donors reported that they gave to women’s fund because they

  • believe the women’s funds have the best connections and know which organizations in the community are doing great work;
  • trust the women’s fund will do the right thing; and
  • trust the women’s fund to deliver the desired result.

Trust is one factor that motivates donors to support women’s funds.  Our study also found other factors such as personal experiences and a desire for gender equality in society.  One donor was drawn to support women’s funds because they are “underfunded” and “underdogs.”  She mentioned as motivations for her support that these organizations “still aren’t even with men’s organizations.”  Another donor stated she supports women’s funds because “We have to have women who are empowered and have economic stability to be able to provide the next generations with stability.”

The more nonprofits understand what motivates donors, the better able they will be to meet donor expectations and to engage donors according to their interests. Building trust is reciprocal from the nonprofit to the donor and from the donor to the nonprofit.  While our new research illustrates the importance of trust in women’s funds to donors, more research is needed to better understand donors’ perceptions of that trust.

What factors contribute to building that trust?  What are best practices for nonprofits to build trust with donors?  What do donors look for in trusted nonprofit partners?  What happens when that trust erodes from either side?  How important are timely communications, accountability, transparency, and statements of impact to strengthen that trust?

This research report, Giving to Women and Girls:  Who Gives and Why? is the first in a series of studies we are working on with support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  We look forward to sharing new findings with you over the next several years.