Three Ways to Improve 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. Unfortunately, too many of us in all organizations do not trust those around us.

Sometimes we do not trust others for excellent reasons. The other has been untrustworthy. Sometimes you broke the trust and haven’t known how to repair it. Now, it has gone on long enough to be 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.

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

1. Be Trustworthy. This is hard 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.” A callback is implied, 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 greatest 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. Decide the failure to return the call wasn’t their intent. Despite our best efforts, we run into fires that throw us off track. We get tired.  Forgive and ask for forgiveness.

3. Start Fresh. This 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, begin 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. This will not fix all the experience of broken trust in your life. It will bandage, improve, and allow some to heal.

Even though linguists tell us trust is a noun, I recommend you think of trust as a verb. We can act to heal broken trust and grow more trust in our relationships. Which of these three actions will you begin today?

For more, read a free chapter from Let’s Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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