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Trust in Nonprofit and Philanthropic Groups Declining, Survey Shows

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Trust is declining for nonprofits and philanthropic organizations, according to a new survey by Independent Sector, a coalition of nonprofits, foundations, and corporate giving programs.

While expectations for the sector remain high — 84% of respondents said they think nonprofits can strengthen American society and 65% said the same of philanthropy — only four percent of respondents said they currently trust major philanthropists or foundations, down from 15 percent the year before.

The top factor contributing to people’s trust in an individual nonprofit is its ability to demonstrate purpose and integrity, and 45% of participants said they trust nonprofits to “do what is right,” down just 2 percentage points from 2020.

Donors, volunteers and voters as well as older respondents were more trusting in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, while Generation Z, those born after 1996, reported a significant trust decrease. Only 30% of Gen Z respondents said they trusted charities, down from 51%, while 65% of members of the Greatest Generation said they did, up from 51%.

More Democrats (63%) said they trusted nonprofits than Republicans (44%.)

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Those who are most familiar with nonprofits and philanthropy are more likely to trust them.

People who regularly receive services from nonprofits report higher than average trust scores in nonprofits broadly.

Edelman Data & Intelligence conducted the survey in April and May, with 5,000 respondents to questions about nonprofits and 3,000 participants in the analysis of philanthropists and foundations.

Affluent Americans with college educations have consistently more trust in the nonprofit world than others who have less income and less education. Similarly, Democrats and urban dwellers put more faith in nonprofits than do Republicans and rural residents.

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Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.