The tough work of building organizational trust.
Trust is a provisional grant that if not supported by action will be removed. It’s a slippery word because of frequent violations! Trust took a hit with the Joe Isuzu farcical television commercials of the 1980s, and Ronald Reagan redefined trust as he created an arms treaty with the Soviets, coining a kind of conditional trust with the phrase: “Trust, but verify.”
Most of us are great fans of trust because at its most basic level, trust is self-serving. If you trust me, it makes my life much easier. If I can trust you, it also makes my life much easier!
When the topic of trust enters the organizational setting, it is also a tricky thing. If a member of the staff or a consultant challenges organizational leaders to build trust into their management equation, the recommendation is often met with nodding agreement that goes no further. To many leaders, trust sounds like soft and cuddly business jargon. Treated seriously, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Trust is not a soft virtue. Gaining and keeping trust is tough, gritty, engaged, in-your-face work. Listening hard. Making difficult choices. Fortitude, sacrifice, sweat and tears are often required to make and to deliver on promises and to be unfailingly truthful.
The Valcort Group’s Chuck Thomas writes that “the bedrock of trust is shared values, common heart-motivations and beliefs like honesty, fairness, generosity, hard work, and integrity. Sadly, in recent years we have seen the erosion of these values within organizations, institutions and companies that we have trusted for decades, or even for centuries.”
While it is increasingly difficult to gain and maintain trust in an environment jaded by the erosion of values, charities depend on it more than any other group. If supporters and stakeholders do not resoundingly believe that an organization will use their support and their time and treasure to bring about promised results, the trust contract can and will end quickly and without opportunity for recourse.
Trust will evaporate overnight if is not earned faithfully in the way fundraising and programming are conducted. This includes:
- Demonstrated commitment to being good stewards of entrusted funds
- Care and respect for employees, volunteers, supporters and program recipients
- Innovation as necessary to enhance effectiveness as conditions change
- Avoiding activities that are not in keeping with the organizational purposes and the promises that you’ve made to your stakeholders.
Violating trust can spell the end of a charity’s reputation and the permission it has from its supporters to deliver on their passions and commitments. Trust me on this one.