For leaders of civil society organizations, earning, rebuilding, and maintaining trust is a complicated but doable and essential undertaking to achieve their mission. They need to understand the context in which they are building trust across diverse groups of people, from staff to partners to the people they serve to society at large.

The job is made harder by bad actors in society who deliberately undermine trust. Those who are pitting communities against each other and sowing misinformation are harnessing faster and fancier tools to do their worst. For civil society leaders to reverse the growing trust deficit and use social trust to bridge rather than divide society, leaders need to be equally well equipped.

With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (the views in this article do not necessarily represent those of the foundation), a team of us at Spitfire Strategies took a close look at the social science research from the last 20 years about earning and rebuilding trust, interviewed and heard from more than 25 leaders on their trust-building work, and explored case studies to see trust-building and rebuilding in action. Based on what we learned, we created a guide for civil society leaders to deliberately and consistently earn high trust—as well as how to repair trust once it is breached.

Here are five steps for leaders to consider:

  • First, understand what social trust is.
  • Second, define what “strong trust” means for your organization and how it helps achieve the mission. Make sure all who work for the organization from staff to board know what this is and their role in contributing to it. 
  • Third, get clear about the different groups of people you want to build trusting relationships with. 
  • Fourth, get a sense from both internal and external communities about how trustworthy they find your organization, and what fractures need repair to increase trust. 

Read the full article about building trust by Kristen Grimm, Claire de Leon, Michael Crawford and Diana Chun at Stanford Social Innovation Review.