's Latest Donor Trust Report
BBB Wise Giving Alliance

BBB Wise Giving Alliance has released an in-depth look into the state of public trust in the charitable sector. The Donor Trust Report is based on a survey of 2,100 adults in the United States and explores donor beliefs, feelings, and behavioral intentions related to charity trust and generosity.

The report offers a macro-level view of the state of public trust for the charitable sector as a whole and for specific charity types. Other themes covered include: triggers of trust at the individual donor level, presentation of donor attitudes along generational and racial lines, and shifting views about generosity more broadly.

The way donors think about trust, generosity and their role in bringing about change is in a state of flux. Survey findings show the need to strengthen public trust in the charitable sector and remind us that the ability of charitable organizations to thrive in the future is closely tied to their ability to understand how rising (and more diverse) generations think about trust, engagement, and generosity. Below are some highlights from the study. 

The charitable sector is the most trusted institution in the United States. However, given the current state of public distrust for all institutions, trust in the sector is very low. In fact, the majority of respondents (73 percent) say it is very important to trust a charity before giving, but only a small portion of respondents (19 percent) say they highly trust charities and an even smaller portion (10 percent) are optimistic about the sector becoming more trustworthy over time.

In measuring perceived trust for different types of charities, the study found the highest levels of public trust for not-for-profit hospitals, veterans organizations, socials service charities, and religious organizations. In fact, not-for-profit hospitals and health organizations experienced the most significant upward shift in public trust perception between 2001 and 2017. On the other hand, educational organizations and police and firefighter organizations have fallen in relative perceived public trust.

Religious organizations have the highest portion of respondents rating their trust very highly, followed by animal welfare and civil rights and community action organizations.

Respondents tend to perceive local and smaller charities as more likely to be trustworthy than national and larger charities. Specifically, 67 percent of participants said they trust local charities more than national charities, and 62 percent of participants say they trust small charities more than large ones.

Perceived trust by charity types varies across age and racial groups.The portion of young respondents who highly trust religious organizations is meaningfully lower than among older generations. In turn, younger respondents highly trust international organizations, environmental organizations, and educational organizations. Similarly, while African American and Latinos or Hispanics tend to be more trusting of charities than Asians and Whites as a whole, the study found that divergence in trust is widest for civil rights and community action and youth development organizations.

• When thinking about making a donation, the majority of people say they want information about how money is spent and about the effectiveness of their donation. While financial ratios (such as how much is spent on fundraising and administration versus programs) tend to be top-of-mind, found that accomplishments shared by the organization, clarity of appeals, and effectiveness in achieving the organization’s mission are also perceived as very important triggers of trust.

Triggers of trust vary meaningfully across demographic lines. Survey findings showed that older generations and White respondents tend to attribute significantly more importance to a charity’s trustworthiness before giving and tend to be less trusting of charities. Younger generations and racial minorities perceive verifying trust in a charity as easier and tend to attribute more value to apparent passion and sincerity in the appeal.

• Among respondents, 11 percent of donors expressed a desire to be approached more by charities while 22 percent stated that they might be willing to give more if approached. Looking closer into openness to solicitation across age and race, the study found that younger respondents more frequently express desire to be approached and give. For instance, 65 percent of adult Z-Gen (ages 18 and 19) respondents (as compared to 7 percent of Silent Generation counterparts ages 72 to 89) said they might be willing to give more if approached or would like charities to approach them more. Similarly, a higher portion of African American, Latino/Hispanics, and Asian respondents expressed a desire to be approached to give. For instance, 56 percent of African American respondents (as compared to 24 percent of Whites) said they might be willing to give more if approached or would like charities to approach them more. Moreover, older generations report being asked to give more across most solicitation channels, with the exception of social media solicitation.

When asked what types of donations respondents want to increase in the future, younger generations report relatively lower intention to increase monetary contributions but an above average desire to attend charitable events, support good business or social enterprise, raise awareness by engaging their networks, and invest in donor-advised funds.

The BBB Wise Giving Alliance report aims to identify opportunities to strengthen the bond between charities and donors. The way donors think about trust and giving is fluid and malleable. On one hand, to be successful, charities must adapt to the way people want to be engaged and understand how to responsibly elicit trust. On the other hand, charities play a role in shaping the way donors feel toward the sector and can gain from building trust as a collective asset.

To read the full report and find the infographics, visit or view the document below.