Trust in nonprofits down since 2020, according to Independent Sector survey

May 20, 2022

High trust in nonprofits and philanthropy correlates with high socioeconomic status. Democrats trust philanthropy appreciably more than the general population.

According to Independent Sector’s third annual report of survey findings that explores trust in American nonprofit organizations and philanthropy, 56% of Americans said they have high trust in nonprofits—down a statistically significant three percentage points since the first, benchmark study in 2020. High trust in philanthropy decreased from 36% to 34% during the same period, the survey finds, but this difference is not statistically significant.

Eleven percent of the more than 3,000 respondents said they have low trust in nonprofits, and 21% have low trust in philanthropy. Of those respondents with low trust in nonprofits, given reasons for that low trust include “[m]ismanaged funds and high overhead” and an “[i]nappropriate political agenda,” according to the report, Trust in Civil Society.

Released yesterday, the survey was conducted in partnership with Edelman Data & Intelligence.

“Trust in both nonprofits and philanthropy is strongly correlated with socioeconomic status; college-educated and higher income Americans report much higher trust compared to the general population,” the report notes.

Forty-four percent of registered Democratic voters said they have high trust in philanthropy, an appreciable 10% higher than the general population’s level of high trust. Thirty-four percent of registered Republicans have high trust in philanthropy, the same level as the general population’s level. And 29% of independents have high trust in philanthropy, 5% lower than the general population.

Since the first 2020 study, the percentage of Democrat respondents saying they have high trust in philanthropy has increased three points, and the percentage of Republicans and independents saying they have high trust in philanthropy decreased six points in each case.