The Battle for Truth: Trust in NGOs in 2018 and Beyond
A few weeks back, I was asked to present at the Annual General Meeting of Osteoporosis Canada and had the privilege to speak in front of more than 70 staff, board members and volunteers.
Over the course of an hour, we addressed communications marketing and the value it brings to organizations such as Osteoporosis Canada. We also looked at case studies in the health space that are making waves and creating change, both here and abroad. It led to a lively discussion about how Osteoporosis Canada intends to show up differently when it comes to raising awareness among new target audiences about a disease known as the “silent thief.”
Key to our discussion – and relevant for all those in attendance, no matter their position at the organization – was the important role that trust plays in engaging the public.
TRUST AND NGOS
For nearly 20 years, Edelman has been tracking trust. The Edelman Trust Barometer is the largest study of its kind, looking at trust across four key institutions: government, media, business and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). I took the opportunity to pull out some of the key findings from the Canadian arm of the survey. This year revealed a surprising shift with trust in NGOs declining by nine points. We saw a fascinating year-over-year comparison of how Canadians responded when asked if they trust NGOs. In 2018, we dropped significantly over the past year, to one of the lowest historical points, with only half of the general population saying they trust NGOs. We’re on the cusp between the “neutral” and “distrusting” categories. NGOs need to return to being the most trusted institute in Canada. But how do we do that? In three key ways:
1. AGENTS OF CHANGE
Firstly, Canadians want, and expect, NGOs to drive change. We asked Canadian respondents to confirm which action they considered important for NGOs to build trust. Their answers were:
• Improve quality of life;
• Inform good life decisions; and,
• Create a sense of community.
Communications marketing – with a focus on thoughtful storytelling, building relationships and earned influence – can do all three effectively.
2. CLARITY, BALANCE & VALIDATION
Secondly, in a world increasingly anxious about fake news, trust depends on clarity, balance and validation. Canadians want information that is non-partisan and isn’t motivated by profits or politics. They want to hear genuine voices, and that means clear communication, balancing an argument by discussing (and hearing) both sides, and validating information by grounding it in solid research and credible, third-party endorsements.
3. CREDIBLE, AUTHORITATIVE VOICES
And finally, because of this, Canadians have a renewed appetite for credible, authoritative voices. This means mobilizing health professionals and researchers, for example. It is also an opportunity for senior leadership at NGOs to increase their public presence to build trust. As we hear from more authoritative voices, and organizations focus on those trust-building activities Canadians expect from them, we expect that NGOs will rebuild trust with the Canadian general population.
Having worked with numerous non-profit organizations over the years, I’ve seen the hard work, passion and dedication of the individual people driving each organization’s mission. Whether it’s knocking on doors for fundraising efforts or advocating on Parliament Hill for change, I’ve witnessed the positive impact these organizations can have to make Canada a better, and healthier, place to live. To continue to make the most impact though, NGOs need the trust of Canadians – and it’s critical that they step up with a unique and authoritative voice. For more information on the Edelman Trust Barometer, visit edelman.ca/trust.
Joanna Wilson is Executive Vice President and National Health Lead at Edelman Canada.