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Hoosiers trust nonprofits to do what is right

June 8, 2009

A large majority of Indiana residents trust nonprofit organizations and charities in their communities to do what is right most or just about all the time, according to a new Indiana University survey.

Hoosiers expressed modest levels of trust in community businesses and corporations, and in state and local government, the survey found. They had the least faith in the federal government.

Findings of the survey are published in a new report, "Are Nonprofits Trustworthy?"by the Center on Philanthropy and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, both at Indiana University. The report is part of the ongoing project "Indiana Nonprofit Sector: Scope and Community Dimensions."

Kirsten Grønbjerg, director of the project and author of the recent report, said it's significant that Indiana residents trust their local nonprofits at a time when the organizations are facing difficulties related to the economic crisis.

"They are strained. They're facing enormous demands, particularly in the human services and health care sectors," she said. "It's clear that people do have high levels of trust that nonprofits will do the right thing, but given the economic crisis, it is likely that nonprofits may not be able to do all the things that are needed."

Grønbjerg is Efroymson Chair in Philanthropy at the Center on Philanthropy and Chair of the Governance and Management Faculty at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

The survey, managed by the Center for Survey Research at Indiana University, was given to 536 Indiana residents in October 2008. They were asked if they trusted nonprofits and charities in their community to do what is right just about all the time, most of the time, some of the time or hardly ever. Findings included:

  • 75 percent trusted nonprofits and charities to do what is right most or just about all the time.
  • 56 percent similarly trusted businesses and corporations in their communities.
  • 46 percent trusted local government and 44 percent trusted state government.
  • 21 percent trusted the federal government to do what is right most or just about all the time.

The study found an "underlying general tendency to trust," in which people who trusted one type of institution were more likely than others to trust others. For example, among those who trusted the federal government, more than 80 percent also trusted nonprofits and state government, and more than 70 percent trusted businesses and local government.

The survey found that people with more resources, education and connections were more likely than others to trust the five types of institutions. Those with low levels of trust in nonprofits were more likely to be over 65, be a member of a minority group, have a household income of less than $35,000, and have no more than a high school education. Trust in business and government institutions also were significantly lower among minority groups and those with low education and lower household income. Religion and political orientations were not associated with trust of nonprofits but are related to trust in business and government institutions.

For more information on "Indiana Nonprofit Sector: Scope and Community Dimensions,"see http://www.indiana.edu/~nonprof/index.php. To see the complete report "Are Nonprofits Trustworthy?" go to http://www.indiana.edu/~nonprof/results/trustsurvey/trustsurvey2008.pdf.