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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Build trust to increase impact

I am a busy working mom, wife and student. My current personal mission is to raise good human beings and successfully launch them into adulthood. My relationship with my children is paramount in my life right now and requires a high degree of focus, attention and trust. However, my life would be in great imbalance if while focusing on my children, I didn’t work to foster good relationships with my husband, my parents, my family, my friends, my co-workers, my fellow students, my children’s teachers and coaches, etc. These people are stakeholders in my life and the lives of my kids. My children’s lives are better, richer and more meaningful because of stakeholder involvement. There is a well-known proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It does indeed.

Nonprofits work in the same way. Nonprofits exist to meet the needs of the people and/or the community they serve. Nonprofits are mission-driven and constituent-focused. However, nonprofits cannot do it alone and should not neglect important stakeholder relationships with employees, volunteers, the Board of Directors and donors. Nurturing these stakeholder relationships in pursuit of mission will increase performance and strongly enhance impact.

The foundation of all successful relationships is built on trust. This is true in nonprofit relationships as well. People want to work/volunteer for and give money to organizations that they believe in and trust. I have heard many nonprofit leaders say, “Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.” A nonprofit that breaks the trust with their stakeholders may never recover.

Author Mehmet Murat Ildan once said, “If you leave a good trace behind you, that trace will continue in its walk even if you stop.” This quote can be applied to the nonprofit sector. Nonprofit leaders need to build strong stakeholder relationships to sustain and grow an organization (even when they are no longer with that organization). So, how can you improve your relationships with your stakeholders? From my research in this area, I have pulled some basic tenants that are universally applicable to building trust with employees, volunteers, the Board of Directors and donors. Organizations wishing to increase impact should use the acronym TRACE to build trust into their organizational culture.

  • T Transparency. Share information (to the best of your ability) with all your stakeholders. Give everyone the same information.
  • R Respect. Get to know stakeholders and let them get to know you. Treat everyone with dignity and respect.
  • A -  Appreciation. Recognize employees, volunteers, board members and donors for the skills, talents, abilities, time and money that they generously give to the organization.
  • C- Collaboration. Allow your stakeholders to work in partnership with one another whenever possible. Not only do the best ideas come from collaboration, but stakeholders who work together learn to trust and rely on one another.
  • E - Ethics. Always behave with integrity both in and outside the organization. Work with stakeholders to develop a code of ethics. Discuss and review the code regularly and utilize it in conjunction with the mission to make decisions regarding the organization.

Trust is the foundation for increased performance. Employees, volunteers, the Board of Directors and donors who increase or improve their performance will have a greater social impact.

Shannon Bailey is a graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. Bailey has been an active volunteer in many nonprofit organizations throughout her life. 


ASU Lodestar Center Blog