Only One in Five Americans ‘Highly Trust’ Charities, Survey Finds

Only One in Five Americans ‘Highly Trust’ Charities, Survey Finds

Fewer than one in five Americans say they "highly trust" charities, a report from the BBB Wise Giving Alliance's finds.

Based on a survey of twenty-one hundred adults, the report, Donor Trust Report: An In-Depth Look Into the State of Trust in the Charitable Sector (80 pages, PDF), found that while 73 percent of respondents said it was very important to trust a charity before making a donation, only 19 percent were willing to score their overall trust in charities a 9 or 10 (on a scale of 1 to 10), and just 10 percent were optimistic about the sector becoming more trustworthy over time. According to the report, although charities were more trusted than organized religion (53.5 percent vs. 46.5 percent), banks (63 percent vs. 37 percent), businesses (66 percent vs. 34 percent), the media (73 percent vs. 27 percent), and government (77 percent vs. 23 percent), only 15 percent of respondents expressed strong confidence in charities' ability to deliver on their promises.

The survey also found that within the sector, nonprofit hospitals, veterans' organizations, and social service charities were the most trusted categories of charities, while educational organizations and police and firefighter organizations all scored lower in relative perceived public trust than they had on a 2001 survey.

When asked what most signals that a charity is trustworthy, "mature" respondents (ages 72-89) were most likely to choose third-party evaluation (56 percent), as were baby boomers (46 percent) and Gen Xers (37 percent). Among younger generations, however, 30 percent of millennial (ages 20-36) and 45 percent of Gen Z (ages 18 and 19) chose "passion/sincerity of appeal," compared with only 9 percent of matures, 13 percent of baby boomers, and 19 percent of Gen Xers. In addition, millennial (29 percent) and Gen Z (25 percent) respondents were more likely than older generations to say it was easy to know whether a charity was trustworthy, as were African-American (26 percent) and Latinx (26 percent) respondents, suggesting that these groups were less likely to take the extra step to vet a charity before giving.

"We rely on charities to solve some of society's most challenging problems, and it is startling to learn only a small percentage of Americans highly trust charities," said Art Taylor, president and CEO of BBB's "This report shows the need to strengthen public trust in the charitable sector and reminds us that the ability of charitable organizations to thrive in the future is closely tied to their ability to understand how rising — and more diverse — generations think about trust, engagement, and generosity."

"Do People Trust Charities? Study by BBB's Uncovers Pitfalls." BBB Wise Giving Alliance Press Release 10/25/2018. " Donor Trust Report: An In-Depth Look Into the State of Trust in the Charitable Sector." BBB Wise Giving Alliance's Report 10/25/2018.