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Wise Giving Wednesday: Signals of Trust for Charities

Sep 18, 2019

If you were to meet an individual for the first time, what signals would help you determine if you should trust them? There are many potential influences, including what they say, their expression, tone of voice, and body language. Any single one of these areas that struck you as unusual could make you uneasy. Experience helps train us to pick up on these signals. In some cases, you may not be aware what is out of place but your instincts are telling you something is off.

If you were considering a charity for the first time, what signals would help you determine if you should trust them? This is a more complex question. Experience alone will not necessarily train us to make that judgment. In turn, some of the signals we use to verify trust in a business (such as the volume and nature of customer complaints) are not usually applicable to charities that are asking for donations rather than selling goods or services.

This trust verification gap for charities led to the need to develop tools, such as the BBB Standards for Charity Accountability, that help donors make more informed giving decisions. These Standards were developed with the help of the charitable community, regulators, accountants, foundations and other experts in philanthropy. Survey research and reactions to exposure drafts and related discussions were all considered in producing them. And, just like trust signals for individuals, charity standards signal important donor considerations but no single standard is enough to make a complete assessment. Areas covered include, but are not limited to: adequate board oversight of operations, how funds are spent, appeal accuracy, accomplishment reporting and transparency.

Unfortunately, some donors will rely on potential false signals of trust such as popularity (i.e., how high a charity appears on a search engine). Popularity, however, can exist for both good and controversial reasons. In turn, over-emphasis on a single factor, such as charity financial ratios, can lead donors down the wrong path. While ratios can help identify outliers, such as those that spend most of their contributions on fundraising, they are less helpful in other circumstances. (See the Overhead Myth for more information on this point.)

In our view, it is best to use a variety of signals, such as those covered by the 20 BBB Charity Standards, that provide a holistic approach to trust verification. As a unit these standards, produced in an open and intensive process, provide an experienced and tested guide that can help strengthen charity practices while helping donors make informed giving choices.


Video of the Week

As part of our Building Trust Video Series, we are pleased to provide an interview featuring Miki Jordan, President & CEO of Wayfinder Family Services (a BBB Accredited Charity), previously known as Junior Blind of America, which offers services for individuals of all ages with vision loss and, often, additional disabilities through the organization's early intervention, education, recreation, mental health, workforce readiness and rehabilitation services. 


Recent Reports

We are always working with charities to publish or update reports for donors. Visit Give.org or local BBBs to check out any charity before giving. Our recently evaluated charities include:

Finally, remember to let us know by going to www.give.org/charity-inquiry if you are  interested in seeing a report on a charity not on the list and we will do our best to produce one.

H. Art Taylor, President & CEO  
BBB Wise Giving Alliance