Americans Trust Nonprofits More Than Government

After comparing nonprofit and the government responses to our current national health crisis, a majority of Americans agree that nonprofits are more trustworthy. 

In a survey of 350 Americans from mid-May, 70 percent reported confidence in nonprofit responses to the pandemic, while 65 percent indicated confidence in their state or local government. When it comes to the federal government, trust tumbles to 44 percent.

The study was conducted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Luth Research, and the Nonprofit Institute at the University of San Diego’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences, and it found that citizens both young and old now report greater confidence in the efforts of civil society than a month ago.

The recent findings echo a 2015 poll commissioned by The Philanthropy Roundtable and included in The Almanac of American Philanthropy. When asked whether their first choice for solving a social problem would be government or philanthropic aid, 32 percent of Americans picked the government, while 47 percent chose philanthropic aid (see Question 2). A large majority state that private charities are more cost-effective in promoting social change (see Question 3). When it comes to addressing our most pressing issues, the public trusts philanthropy at triple the level of government, and even more than fast-moving entrepreneurial companies (see Question 10).

Americans are convinced that in crucial areas like medical care, disaster relief, college education, family life, addiction treatment, sharing the arts, expanding home ownership, and so forth, the most effective actors are often charitable and voluntary groups. 

They are attracted to the fact that philanthropy often instigates social improvements when government is AWOL—like recovering desolated urban parks, controlling drunk driving, creating the country’s best job-training programs for economic strugglers, inventing microlending, and launching the Green Revolution

And people appreciate that philanthropic change tends to come with much less friction. As noted by one social entrepreneur quoted about three quarters of the way through the section of the Almanac entitled “Big-Picture Benefits of Philanthropy,” philanthropy generally practices “the politics of addition and multiplication,” while government action frequently comes via “the politics of subtraction and division.”

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