Americans Trust Nonprofits To Solve Problems

Kenneth I. Chenault

After all of the nasty political rhetoric that preceded this week’s mid-term elections, it wasn’t too surprising to find a story that people trust nonprofits more than government to solve society’s problems. The survey was part of a multi-million dollar contribution that was announced at a nonprofit leadership conference.

The article on the Chronicle of  Philanthropy website, “Americans’ Faith in Nonprofits Is Strong, Survey Finds,” quoted a study by American Express. On Wednesday, American Express Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Kenneth I. Chenault announced a $25 million funding commitment to develop leaders in the nonprofit sector. The announcement was made during the fifth annual American Express Leadership Conference in New York. The conference is a nationwide training program to develop the next generation of leaders in the nonprofit sector.

The survey also found that nearly nine out of 10 Americans say that nonprofit groups face financial problems of their own and that getting sufficient money is one of the biggest concerns for charities. Four out of five Americans agree that nonprofit groups don’t have “the resources to invest in the growth and development of their employees.”

A couple of themes and questions emerge when reviewing the research.

  • If Americans trust nonprofits more than the government, will they increase their donations to provide more help to nonprofits?
  • How does this trust level compare with the increased scrutiny of nonprofits? It doesn’t seem like a week goes by without a story being published on questionable nonprofit financial practices, fundraising through telemarketers and or exorbitant salaries of executive directors.
  • Nonprofits will have to increase their marketing and communications to take advantage of this level of trust. They must be prepared to communicate their successes, needs and vision to the general public. If not, they will continue to struggle to raise money.
  • Will this motivate nonprofits to take more risks and be more innovative to solve more problems?
  • If people trust your nonprofit, will they be more trusting if you’re collaborating with other trusted nonprofits?

The survey also found that among those interested in working for a nonprofit organization, 67 percent said such work could be more rewarding than other kinds of employment and 41 percent said it would mean earning lower pay. This wasn’t too surprising. Many in the corporate world yearn to have their efforts contribute to making the world a better place. However, many people working in nonprofits are highly dissatisfied with their working environments. These employees often are dismayed with the lack of alignment between the organization’s mission and the spirit and values displayed by managers, board members, volunteers and fellow workers. Nonprofit leaders must always be aware of the culture throughout their organization because it could interfere with mission fulfillment.

Great leaders are in short supply throughout all sectors of our country. Training and education are key elements in developing leadership skills. But leaders must be skillful in communicating, organizing, motivating, evaluating and recognizing those who follow them. More importantly, they must lead by example. Their character, integrity and values will speak louder than any words they use.


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