How to Build Trust on Your Nonprofit Website

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Trust is a big deal.

No matter where we go or what we do, we are being marketed to. The websites we visit, the television shows we watch, the freeways we drive down, and the podcasts we listen to, are all trying to market to us. We see ads everywhere at every turn.

And because of this, we’ve become desensitized to marketing messages. In fact, as an audience, we are super skeptical of anything that feels even a little bit like marketing. We don’t trust the people talking to us to tell us something useful, or helpful, or engaging. We just expect them to yell at us about their product or cause. We’ve stopped trusting, and so we’ve stopped listening.

As marketers, what can we do about this?

We have work to do. We need a new way to connect to people, a new way to gain their trust. It’s our job to build trust with people again - to connect with them with honesty, transparency, and focus.

I’ve become a huge proponent of blogging as way for organizations - commercial and non-commercial - to build trust, genuinely connect to their users, and create advocates for their cause. There are three principles I think are really important, and really powerful, when blogging this way.

1. Be Honest

Honesty seems like an obvious goal for any organization, but I’ve seen many groups who have a huge fear of sharing about ideas or projects that could be seen as failures.

But being honest is more than just sharing the good. It’s about embracing the good with the bad. It’s about sharing what you’ve learned, and it’s about being vulnerable.

Complete honesty is hard for organizations because it puts them in a vulnerable position. It opens them up for feedback and possibly criticism. But people already know you’re not perfect, because no-one is. Your audience will respond better to your message if you put yourself in a vulnerable position with them.

Your audience has their own set of fears, failures, and desires. To ignore these truths about your own work makes you feel less human, less honest, and creates a divide between you and the reader.

2. Be Transparent

You can’t be honest without being transparent, and I’m not just talking about putting your annual report online. Putting out a nicely-designed version of something you are required to release anyway is not being transparent. When I talk about being transparent, I’m talking about something bigger - allowing your people to share their work with the world.

Your organization has some of the smartest and most innovative people working on solving the world’s most challenging problems. But none of them are talking about what they’re doing. They’re not sharing their work with the world, which means they’re not sharing your work with the world.

Let your people be transparent, let them share the work, and watch as people gather around to support your cause.

3. Be Focused

Getting your people talking about what they’re doing is great, but ultimately what is being shared needs to fit within the goals and work of your organization. I don’t really care what your field workers had for lunch. That’s not a focused communication (unless your project is about promoting nutritious lunches).

What we want is for your people to communicate in a way that is honest, revealing, transparent, and ultimately in line with the focus of your nonprofit. So how do we do this?

What we do at Glean is draft monthly themes for our client’s communication based around their goals. In this way we can help guide the focus of the organization without forcing people to write about something they don’t care about. If your team is having a hard time coming up with topics for writing, then we recommend even coming up with the actual blog post topics on a weekly or monthly basis.

Giving people topic areas to work in will help them focus their writing, but the impact of the content they create will come from their own enthusiasm as they explore the topic from their viewpoint.

You don’t employ robots, you employ passionate individuals. Let them be the asset they’re trying to be for your work.