Independent Sector Launches New Report on Trust in Civil Society

Findings show the public has faith in the ability of nonprofits to strengthen society, but desire a greater amount of transparency in mission and impact

Washington, District of Columbia, UNITED STATES

Washington, June 25, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Independent Sector published new findings on trust in civil society from a research study conducted in partnership with Edelman Intelligence. The report includes results from a series of surveys designed to explore the nuances of trust in American nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. The findings reveal broad trust (81 percent) in nonprofits’ abilities to strengthen society, and that the more closely aligned with mission and impact, the more likely people trust those organizations.

“Public trust is the currency of the nonprofit sector. These findings help us better understand public perception, which is critical to the sustainability and impact of nonprofits,” said Daniel J. Cardinali, president and CEO of Independent Sector. “Most importantly, these findings enable the sector identify strategies to help us deepen levels of trust moving forward, especially in light of our collective efforts to recover from COVID-19 and the resulting economic crisis, and address inequity and racial injustice.”

Understanding and managing trust have never been more important for individual organizations to protect their ability to operate, lead, and succeed. Given the outsized importance of trust, it is imperative to assess the status of that trust and how the sector can strengthen its most valuable asset.

The results of the report uncover the following themes:

  1. There is broad trust in nonprofits, except among underserved communities. People of color reported high levels of trust in the nonprofit sector than 10 years ago.
  2. There is uncertainty about the sector’s direction. Despite overall high levels of trust in the sector, people are unsure about its direction and believe everyday people are best positioned to make change.
  3. Personal familiarity drives trust. Seventy-three percent of respondents report familiarity is a key driver in building trust in a given nonprofit.
  4. Civic engagement has a reciprocal relationship with trust. Survey findings introduce the prospect that there may be reciprocal relationships between activities like voting, trust, and giving. 
  5. The ability to demonstrate impact and emphasize mission and values builds trust in organizations. Organizations must focus on showcasing impact and demonstrate their mission for the public to develop greater levels of trust.

For this report, Edelman Intelligence conducted two national surveys, each of 3,000 American adults ages 18+, to assess the general population’s trust in the sector (nonprofits and philanthropy) and uncover the factors that drive trust. The full methodology for the report is available here.


Independent Sector is the only national membership organization that brings together a diverse community of changemakers, nonprofits, foundations, and corporations working to ensure all people in the United States thrive. Learn more at