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Building Trust with Philanthropic Partners


Trust is at an all-time low in our country. Because trust is at the core of philanthropy efforts, it is imperative that health care philanthropy teams address this unfortunate trend. A lack of trust leads to patients not seeking care, not believing they are receiving the best care possible, not investing in their hospitals for fear their money won’t be used wisely and even unwillingness to help neighbors to effect change for the better. There is, however, encouraging news. Those of us in philanthropy can combat this growing trend of distrust and move the needle to a more positive state. We are natural connectors and relationship builders. Let’s use our innate skills to turn this trend around.

In Part One, we mentioned data from a Gallup survey, a NORC study on behalf of the American Board of Internal Medicine and others referencing the trend of mistrust in our country. In the 2022 Donor Trust Report, only 20.4% of Americans report a high level of trust in charities, resulting in a wide gap between potential donors and nonprofits seeking their support.¹ Yet the same report states nearly 80% of donors with the ability to give $5,000 or more to a nonprofit say trust is “essential” in determining where they give.²

This mistrust deepens as we examine ideology and its impact on how we identify with others. The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer report shares another shocking statistic. Only 30% of those surveyed said they would help someone in need who strongly disagreed with their point of view.³ Our communities have become polarized, leading many to live in isolation and not connecting with one another to move a common interest forward. This behavior not only impacts donor potential but also impacts how we integrate our volunteers as advocates when engaging others for our missions.

We are natural connectors and relationship builders. Let’s use our innate skills to turn this trend around.

In The Generosity Crisis: The Case for Radical Connection to Solve Humanity’s Greatest Challenges, the authors encourage readers to have the conversations needed to combat isolation with generosity and how technology is the solution to achieve this.⁴ It is inherent to seek connection to build trust. Philanthropy teams have the unique ability to create this connection through our work and it starts with our relationship-building skills. We can use these skills to dig deeper with our donors as we connect and engage with them. We must ask ourselves if we are talking about donor purpose first or our organization’s goals. We must always start with others. When we visit with prospective supporting partners, we must find out what makes their hearts beat when it comes to their passions. We must learn what legacies they want to leave with their philanthropy. We must ask what interests them about the nonprofits they support and how that relates to our organization’s mission. For more ways to engage in authentic conversations, see the included sidebar (in attached PDF).

In building and maintaining trust, it is also important to look at how we use language to talk about our donors. Notice how we now use respectful terms such as “philanthropic partner” instead of “donor,” and “gift invitation” instead of “solicitation.” We don’t “lure” people into our circle of friends, we “invite” them. We must examine how our teams talk about those we want to engage and ensure we are treating them with the respect we ourselves would want as philanthropic partners. It’s vital we extend this language and respect to all we encounter.

Finally, stewardship has become a forgotten art in some programs. If we want to build and enhance trust, it is critical to thank those who support us and to share the impact their gifts have provided. Be transparent. Don’t try to “sell” philanthropic partners on the impact their gifts can make. Those who donate are typically savvy and recognize when they are being sold a bill of goods. If we are genuine and authentic in all of our interactions, trust will elevate throughout our relationship-building and stewardship efforts. Continuous engagement around support, impact and input will make relationships with our supporting partners more meaningful, authentic, collaborative and trustworthy.

¹ Donor Trust Report 2022: Five-Year Review of Trust and Giving Attitudes, BBB Wise Giving Alliance.

² Ibid.

³ 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer.

⁴ The Generosity Crisis: The Case for Radical Connection to Solve Humanity’s Greatest Challenges, Nathan Chappell, Brian Crimmins, Michael Ashley, 2002.

Accordant White Paper_Building Trust
Download PDF • 1.40MB

About the Author: Pamela Ronka Maroulis, FAHP, CFRE, is President and Principal Consultant with Accordant, specializing in building relationships and helping donors support their passions. Pam can be reached at or by connecting through LinkedIn.


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The Accordant Team has published a number of books to advance the efforts of health care philanthropy and help development leaders everywhere. 

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Accordant is honored to collaborate with American Hospital Association Trustee Services to provide issue papers, templates and webinars to support the involvement of healthcare trustees and foundation board members in advancing philanthropy. These resources can also be found on the AHA Trustee website.

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