Who isn’t inspired by stories of seemingly selfless people who defy death and go on to manifest buildings out of thin air? And who isn’t crushed when it turns out that most of the story is a fabrication, as reported by CBS 60 Minutes about the Central Asia Institute, started by Greg Mortensen, author of one of my favorite books, Three Cups of Tea?
Every time a superstar nonprofit organization goes down, every nonprofit feels the shudder of the earth. The mistrust of all things good has a ripple effect that causes donors to be skeptical of all nonprofits. What can Colorado nonprofits do to achieve trust from the public and understand what made something like Central Asia Institute so successful?
First, you need to realize that your story is just as compelling as that story. In the story of Three Cups of Tea, everyone learned something that seemed to be new to them, even though it was obvious: educating girls lifts up an entire community. It is rather like the moral of the story in the Wizard of Oz and plain as the nose on your face, “there’s no place like home.” Your organization has that same amazing truth, or you wouldn’t exist. Do you tell your story? Or do you assume that everyone knows that truth? A great activity for your staff and volunteers would be to write your story using the same sort of model. Create a video about your story or write a free pdf book or blog about it.
Second, is your organization transparent and doing its best to provide accurate and easy to understand financial statements? Have you considered doing a review of your financial statements from a different CPA? If you do already meet high standards, share those standards with your supporters. Let them know your books are open. Invite them to trust you more.
Third, does your organization seem to be more about promoting a key figure related to your mission, rather than your mission itself? Nonprofits are about a mission, not about personalities. Have you ever evaluated this in your organization? Is your organization’s story always conveyed through the eyes of your founder or a celebrity and not those whose lives you are impacting? If so, consider how you can tell your story from a grassroots level. Your founder’s story may have been the seed, but the plant that is now growing is the real story of your organization.
The Colorado Nonprofit Association has produced the second edition of Principles & Practices for Nonprofit Excellence in Colorado . By investing time in excellence, and communicating your excellence to the community, you can create a new story and achieve the trust your organization deserves.