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Public Image and Trust: Best Practices June 1, 2011

Public Image and Trust: Best Practices

Building public trust and a positive public image is crucial to the survival of an organization. Nonprofit sector organizations particularly, need the publics trust for legitimacy, mission and goal effectiveness, as well as monetary and non-financial support (Bryce, 2007). Unfortunately, public trust has diminished in this sector over the years due to a variety of scandals which has proved troubling for many nonprofit organizations. According to a 2008 Brookings Public confidence survey, approximately one-third of Americans stated they had little confidence or no confidence in charitable organizations; a large percentage felt these organizations waste an immense amount of money and only a small percentage thought charities made fair decisions and did a good job of helping people (Rhode & Packel, 2009, p 1). There are a number of factors that can deter public trust and negatively impact a charitable organizations image. Board and staff behavior significantly contributes to the level of trust the public has towards the organization and its image. For example, compensation that exceeds business standards can cause outrage in the sector, especially if the organization is struggling to meet the social needs of their mission. Conflicts of interest related to organizational members receiving preferential treatment or having financial interest in companies that may engage in transactions with the company may dilute public trust and reflect poorly on the charitys image. Maintaining financial integrity is another factor that affects the publics trust and company image. Nonprofit organizations must be careful of whom they allow as partners and contributors; affiliations with unethical or distasteful companies can incite public scrutiny. Public Image and Trust: Best Practices 2

It is important for charitable organizations to demonstrate transparency in financial reporting and fundraising activities. Actions that violate public expectations in the use of organizational resources would cause concern (Rhode & Packel, 2009). In order to maintain a positive image and build public trust, nonprofits must exhibit high ethical standards and authentic decision making. Efforts toward accountability and strategic management, as it relates to fiduciary responsibilities and tactical plans for advancing organizational goals can forge a positive public image (Rhode & Packel, 2009). The Georgia Center for NonProfits (GCN) is an association focused on improving the quality of life within Georgia communities by helping to develop high-performing non-profit organizations through training, networking, knowledge sharing, advocacy and collaborations (Georgia Center for NonProfits, 2011). The GCNs strength is garnering support for Georgia nonprofits by advocating for them through public-policy and building relationships between nonprofits and government as well as foundations and businesses (Georgia Center for NonProfits, 2011). The Georgia Center for NonProfits has been instrumental in providing the resources needed for nonprofits to operate at their full potential. One of the organizations potential weaknesses may be its lack of ability to sustain their efforts over the next two decades. I am not certain if the company has a strategic succession plan or if they are preparing the next generation for leadership. It would be interesting to discuss their leadership plans for replacing roles held by baby boomers that are moving towards retirement. Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) is the largest school system in Georgia and the 15th largest school district in the country serving roughly 161,000 students. In October 2010, GCPS was awarded $1 million as the recipient of the Broad Prize for Urban Education which

Public Image and Trust: Best Practices

is the largest education prize in the country. The award highlights large urban school districts that demonstrate outstanding performance and improvement in student achievement while reducing gaps for poor and minority students (Philanthropy News Digest, 2010). The schools vision is to become a system of world-class schools where students acquire the knowledge and skills to be successful as they continue their education at the postsecondary level and/or enter the workforce (Gwinnett County Public Schools, 2011). GCPS is well on its way to reaching their goal as the county continually earns state and national awards that reflect the high-caliber staff, students, and programs of the school system. In terms of limitations, a potential issue is preparedness for transitioning new generation leaders. I am not certain of the organizations plans for developing young leaders. Most highlevel leaders are seniors which can potentially stifle innovation. In addition, there is not enough continuity between schools; as school operations vastly differ with limited sharing and acceptance of creative ideas. Key factors for building public trust and organizational images are:

Develop an ethical culture that promotes ethical decision making implement codes of conduct and ensure organizational members use them effectively.

Promote efficient financial management ensure proper use of finances and resources. Report accurate financial information.

Communicate openly and often with stakeholders.

Best practices for both organizations in terms of building goodwill with stakeholders would be to communicate the companys ethics, openly report its use of resources and finances, and engage the organization in credible partnerships. Defining specific, measurable and results-oriented

Public Image and Trust: Best Practices

goals can be implemented by producing a quarterly company scorecard of achievements against goals and maintaining a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis annually. The target audience for the organizations message would be a compilation of their stakeholders; employees, communities they serve, government, vendors, business partners and donors. Communication strategies should be integrated to include internal and external stakeholders. Effective communication channels that can be utilized are rich media such as television, radio and videoconferences; official stationery should be used for formal messages that can also be included on the companys website; complex data such as financial information should be provided through reports; urgent messages or monthly newsletters can be distributed through email and social media platforms; and face-to-face communication can be used for collaboration, feedback or knowledge sharing. It is essential to foster two-way communication between an organization and its stakeholders. Providing opportunities for feedback to address concerns and cultivate collaboration will establish a foundation for building sustainable relationships.

Public Image and Trust: Best Practices


Bryce, H. (2007). The publics trust in nonprofit organizations: the role of relationship marketing and marketing. Retrieved from ew.pdf?sequence=1. Gwinnett County Public Schools. (2011). Retrieved from

Philanthropy News Digest. (2010). Gwinnett county public schools awarded 2010 broad prize for
urban education. Retrieved from Rhode, D.L., Packel, A.K. (2009). Ethics and nonprofits. Retrieved from The Georgia Center for Non-Profits. (2011). Retrieved from