Technology & Trust

Technology & Trust

A funny little thing happened this past weekend – I got to talking about technology. In all fairness it’s out of the ordinary at all, but the audience I was conversing with was a bit different. My family.

In ages ranging from the mid 50’s to the mid 60’s, we started by discussing cell phone technology, and moved on to banking and ATM’s. The part that struck me the most was a story about cash deposits at ATM’s; a bank teller had been stealing funds and claiming no deposits had been received, thus causing headaches for my aunt’s company and changing her trust of the technology & institution.

I come from a different generation than them – trusting in technology and being patient in its shortfalls is something that was ingrained in me at a young age. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was that what started as a discussion on being wary of technology ended up becoming a conversation about trust.

Nonprofits could heed the lesson here, and it might be a lesson in self-awareness. Oftentimes nonprofits are characterized as slow-moving in the technological realm, and this is mostly correct. But this is likely a product of how they operated before, and the history of philanthropy in general. To quote a recent study on online fundraising created by Network For Good, “Not so long ago, all fundraising was done face-to-face. Houses of worship passed the plate. Alms were given to the needy where they were. Do-gooders persuaded people they knew to support their work. Charitable giving happened in the context of personal relationships.”

Fundraising was personal, and fundraising was based largely on trust. Trust of the person soliciting the money, but also trust in the institution to do the right thing with that money. Add in a layer of the unknown, in this case technology, and there is a barrier to that trust that worries traditional nonprofits and some donors.

Even through the guise of technology, nonprofits can still remain trustworthy. Through the presence of their website, and in all of their digital interactions with constituents, they have the opportunity (and I would even contend obligation) to be accountable to their audience. This means if there is a problem with a credit card donation, taking responsibility and continuing a dialogue with the donor. If there is a mis-step on a social media account, being public about what happened and what you plan on doing moving forward.

In my aunt’s story, the technology behind the ATM wasn’t to blame for the stolen money – the actual people working for the bank were the ones who were untrustworthy. Nonprofit fundraising is still entirely about relationships and building trust with a donor – be open, be honest, and be willing to try new things. Be the best change agent that you can be.


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