Nonprofits battle growing distrust in institutions

Dan Cardinali, president of Independent Sector, speaking this morning in Portland

Nonprofits are facing declining trust in public and private organizations.

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A conversation on how to restore trust in the nonprofit sector is building momentum as confidence in public and private institutions is at new lows.

For several years, public relations firm Edelman has surveyed thousands of people across several countries to measure the public’s trust in business, media, government and non-governmental organizations. For the first time last year, trust declined in all four institutions.

Typically, people trust the non-profit sector the most. But for the first time in 2017, the average level of trust in all four institutions combined fell below 50%.

This lack of confidence is especially damaging to nonprofits, many of which rely on public donations to carry out their missions.

Nonprofits are coalescing around a strategy to restore trust in civil society, defined as private action in the service of public good.

The Independent Sector, a Washington D.C. organization representing large nonprofits, foundations and corporations, is planning to publish a set of articles to drive a public conversation at the national level about what a civil society means today.

It is also working with nonprofits to advise them on how to restore public trust in the sector. In a talk today hosted by the Nonprofit Association of Oregon, Dan Cardinali, president and CEO of the Independent Sector, talked about strategies to restore trust in civil society.

Working against nonprofits are changes to the tax code, which are predicted to reduce the funding streams to nonprofits and make the sector more reliant on fewer wealthy philanthropists.

The new tax reform bill is estimated to suppress charitable donations by up to $17 billion. Only very wealthy donors are now expected to realize a tax benefit for charitable donations, concentrating community engagement among the “elites,” said Cardinali.

Correction appended:  This article has been amended to reflect the correct amount of charitable donations that may be limited by the new tax bill.