Maintaining Trust in an Age of Bad Behavior

Is everyone in public life a swindler, a philanderer or a miscreant? Or am I just over-reacting to the daily revelations of misdeeds by some heretofore highly-respected elected official, popular talk show host, religious leader, head of state, business tycoon…or…. well you fill in the blank.

I don’t know about you but I am no longer surprised by anyone’s behavior however outrageous it may be. That is what happens when you are constantly barraged with bad news. You become inured to its impact and you may even start to become cynical.

The nonprofit sector is part of the public community and as such has always worked hard to maintain its esteemed place in the hearts and minds of the American public. The level of trust and respect nonprofits (Jewish and secular) enjoy is both a result of dedication to core values and principles and to the willingness of the public to believe they are worthy of that trust.

Yet, as the behavior of some of the most public and “trusted” people around us is revealed to be unacceptable, how great a leap is it to imagine that nonprofits could become suspect, victims of an increasingly cynical and distrustful world?

For organizations that rely on public support, trust – built on reputation and behavior – is really all that matters.

In an age where transparency rules, where consumers have the ability to shape an organization’s image and reputation with the click of a mouse, we have to ask ourselves, “What have I done today to build trust in my organization?”

Whether you focus on communication, branding, staff training, outreach, board development or fundraising, job #1 has to be to constantly highlight your organization’s value, effectiveness and the values it lives by.

Let’s not let the very worst examples of public life define ours by default. And let’s not assume we are immune to the spread of cynical distrust that is in the air.

Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional who currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.