May 2, 2014

3 Ways to Improve Staff Trust in Your Nonprofit

man and woman shaking handsA friend was having trouble with his boss. “We don’t connect. I don’t know why. I guess we just see things differently.”

“Do you trust her?” I asked.

Silence. A laugh. “No.”

Donors give you money because they trust you. Volunteers volunteer because they trust you. Development directors and CEOs succeed because they trust each other. Staff members stay with organizations because they trust the leaders. Unfortunately, too many of us do not trust those around us in all organizations.

Sometimes we do not trust others for excellent reasons. The other has been untrustworthy. Sometimes you break the trust and haven’t known how to repair it. Now, the brokeness has gone on long enough to form a habit. Or you have proven untrustworthy on an ongoing basis. Very few of us like to face this kind of truth privately, much less out loud.

Broken trust is one of the reasons for employee turnover is so high. People leave bad bosses-especially bad managers.

Here are three ways to create more trusting relationships in your nonprofit.

1. Be Trustworthy.

Being trustworthy is challenging but fundamental. Make notes of your promises and the things you say you’ll do. Calendar them. Avoid saying you’ll do something you won’t, such as, “Let’s get together.” If your phone message promises to call your callers back, change it. Do you really plan to call back Google when they call you about your address? Instead, say, “This is Sam Everett. Thanks for calling.” You imply a callback is, you don’t promise one, and you won’t break your word with every voice mail.

2. Forgive Yourself and Others.

The tragedy is not that trust got broken. The tragedy is we invest too little in repairing broken trust. Stuff happens. We intend to call back, follow through and communicate. We forget, get busy, avoid difficult situations, and let things ride. One of the most significant losses of this perpetually busy culture is that it allows us to bury broken relationships under meetings, obligations, and deadlines.  We improve trust when we forgive more. Start with yourself. You can decide their failure to return the call wasn’t their intent. We run into fires that throw us off track despite our best efforts. We get tired.  Forgive and ask for forgiveness.

3. Start Fresh.

Beginning again is easiest when you’re in a new position and begin again. You can also restart existing relationships. Presuming you care and want to re-grow trust, start with, “I’m sorry we have grown so distant. Has something happened? Can you tell me about it?” Then listen, and if the reply merits it, plan together to begin again. Your outreach will not fix all of the experiences of broken trust in your life and amongst your staff . It will bandage, improve, and allow some to heal.

Even though linguists tell us trust is a noun, treat trust is a verb.

We can act to heal broken trust and grow more trust in our relationships and our nonprofits. Your with your staff 40 plus hours per week. Which of these three actions will you begin today?

Need more help to heal broken trust? Karen is available for a mini-consult or more. Click here to email or here to set a time to chat.



Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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