Power of Storytelling | The Humane Society’s first step in regaining donor trust

February 12, 2018

Ah, trust in our institutions. It’s eroding on a weekly — some would even say daily — basis. Edelman, a Chicago-based public relations company and marketing consulting firm, just published their annual “trust barometer.” A gauge for global sentiment and culture, the barometer provides insight on where we are right now in the world when it comes to trust; specifically, how we’re feeling about the institutions and industries that shape our lives. A sobering revelation: trust has suffered a record-breaking drop within the last year. And the media is the least-trusted institution globally. Loss of faith in government suffered the highest drop, followed by declines of trust in business, media, and non-government organizations. Edelman’s Trust Barometer can be found in entirety here.

Why am I mentioning the barometer? Because trust is a human concern, and so is fundraising, especially when it’s focused on the right kinds of things. Relationships and communication, for starters. Right now, fundraising relies on communicating to people who, at this point in time, trust less than they used to. The consequences of this simply can’t be ignored, but they can also be fought against.

The Humane Society of the United States suffered a loss of trust from their supporters after their board voted to retain CEO Wayne Pacelle, who was facing complaints of sexual misconduct, with a vote of 17 to 9. Their board chairman cited a lack of “credible evidence.” Supporters responded in ways that people who’ve lost trust do. Seven board members quit in protest, and major donors generated serious backlash. Pacelle resigned the day after the vote. The board then appointed Kitty Block, an attorney and Humane Society veteran, to chief executive status. Block had been serving as president of their international affiliate.

Check out this update from Kitty herself. In addition to her written statement, she’s included a video that emphasizes the key points and her commitment to do right by donors. Kitty is taking a proactive stance in the face of donor distrust. She is reassuring supporters through a promise of sincere commitment. Within the context of the ongoing #MeToo movement, donors are witnessing a remarkable woman taking the steps to shift cultures and attitudes within a major nonprofit organization by stepping in to make it happen.

It is not impossible to regain a loss of trust, but it does involve communicating, and communicating involves appreciating and listening to your donors. Always.

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