Australians’ confidence in the NGO and nonprofit sector has declined for the second consecutive year amidst a broader mistrust in large public institutions, a new survey has revealed.

The the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer asked 33,000 respondents in 28 countries, including 1,150 Australians, about their trust in the business, government, the nonprofit/NGO and media sectors.

The survey found public trust in the NGO and nonprofit sector fell from 52 percent to 48 percent year-on-year, mirroring similar drops across the government (from 37 to 35 percent), business (from 48 to 45 percent) and media (from 32 to 31 percent) sectors.

Edelman Australia CEO Steven Spurr says while confidence in Australian institutions is falling, public trust in individuals and leaders within those institutions (including CEOs or journalists) is increasing.

“There has been a slide over the past two years in how we trust institutions more broadly, with trust in all institutions falling over the past two years. There’s a general view that the institutions aren’t performing. In fact, government is seen to be broken as an institution,” Spurr says.

“What is sitting behind that is that there’s been a big shift in trust away from the institutions towards the individual. Individuals are far more trusted than institutions and even trust in individuals that represent institutions has gone up.”

With public confidence in the media declining, Spurr suggests it is becoming more challenging for nonprofits to communicate to the public, which in turn flowing through to a decline in public confidence.

“There are three things Australians really want from the nonprofit and NGO sector. They are to investigate corruption and wrongdoing, ensure the poorest in society have access to a decent life, and be a champion of the ordinary person to ensure they aren’t being taken advantage of by the powerful,” Spurr says.

“These three things are the primary expectations of the NGO sector and if people aren’t hearing about those things, either through media sources or from their direct interactions, then their trust will fall.”

With media trust declining, Spurr argues that having an effective communications strategy focusing on the expertise of organisational leaders is now more important than ever before.

“Direct your attention to shaping and influencing public opinion in the areas you work in, in educating people around the important (social, political and economic) issues affecting stakeholders, and ensuring people have access to information they need to make good decisions,” Spurr says.

A related issue is that nonprofits are increasingly being perceived as part of the service delivery channel for business and government, rather than as institutions that fill the gaps left behind by the other sectors.

For fundraisers, particularly those partnering with business and government, Spurr says the important lesson is to make sure values align between organisations.

“If you’re the type of organisation that partners with the business sector, it’s really important to know there’s an expectation on CEOs of businesses that they should publicly support a mission or cause they believe in,” Spurr says.

“Business, government and nonprofits are being asked to work together more than they once did. Australians don’t see the separate swim lanes between those institutions as they once did, and they expect a lot more collaboration across them.

“So partnering with government and business, or getting funding from them, is totally acceptable to the Australian public. It’s a matter of making sure those partnerships aren’t just fundraising activities alone, and reflect the broader mission of what your organisation is trying to achieve.”

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