Ever wonder if your fellow community members are aware of the broad and deep impact that local nonprofits have? We in the nonprofit sector see it every day, sometimes in leaps and bounds but more often in tiny, precious steps: the child at their first swimming lesson, the daily harvest of a community garden, the car ride to a better life and bigger dreams.
On October 20, the Nonprofit Center released a new poll looking at perceptions of nonprofits, and we’re thrilled to assure you that the citizens of Northeast Florida believe in the good that nonprofits do.
The Believe in the Good Public Perceptions Poll was conducted by the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab, administered to a representative sample of 1,023 individuals in our seven-county primary service area. It looked at public trust in institutions, attitudes about nonprofits, and how people contribute time, talent, and treasure to nonprofit organizations.
The results incontrovertibly tell us that our community believes in the good that nonprofits can do. Eight in 10 people say our community would be a better place to live if more people donated or volunteered with nonprofits, and that nonprofits:
- Make our community more desirable;
- are a vital part of our economy; and
- can deliver services more efficiently than government.
Plus, three quarters of people believe that government should provide more funding to nonprofits, that non-profits are run by dedicated professionals with a businesslike approach to management, and that working in the nonprofit sector is a worthwhile career path.
Right around the time of the Nonprofit Center’s 10th anniversary, and in the wake of the recession of 2009, we issued a first-of-its-kind survey about perceptions of the local nonprofit sector, and since then, all of these indicators have significantly improved.
But we also know that we live in difficult times. In fact, no one knows it better than our local nonprofits and the people they activate and serve. Two years after Covid-19 rocked all of our worlds, we are seeing the impact of global trends in our local community, both in terms of the challenges facing individuals and families, and challenges facing our civic life, democracy, and the fabric of our interconnectedness.
Reported rates of donating and volunteering activities are down from 2011, though similar to what is seen in the statewide averages.
Nationally over the last decade-plus, Pew research has found that confidence in institutions of all sorts is at a historic low. A number of factors impacted this, from the Great Recession and financial crisis, increasing partisan gridlock in Washington, a resurgence of populism, the COVID-19 pandemic, and inflation rates not seen for four decades. I’m sorry to tell you that Northeast Florida has not been immune to diminishing trust in institutions, and nonprofits and individual volunteers are among them. While nonprofits and individual volunteers remain among the most trusted institutions in our community, that trust has fallen and among nonprofits, there is an opportunity to tap into existing positive perceptions to solidify mild support into strong support.
That challenge is both easier and more difficult than ever before in an information ecosystem that is dramatically different than it was 10 years ago, and in a time of escalated political polarization.
The poll has a lot of detailed information, and the report, charts, and slides are all available at nonprofitctr.org, and we invite you to download and use them as you formulate your organization’s communications strategy.
At the Nonprofit Center, we found a lot of reasons for hope in these numbers despite the challenging environment that we are all operating in.
The first is the promise that nonprofits hold to fight the tide of polarization, misinformation, and ugliness in the public discourse and instead bring our community together in new and profound ways. The poll told us that the vast majority of people — 77 percent — believe the work that nonprofits do creates a fairer, more unified community. This view of nonprofits as a unifier holds the key to making real the vision for a vibrant, inclusive Northeast Florida.
Another is that the data reveals levels of volunteerism and donations are high in the youngest adults, holding so much promise to activate a new generation of changemakers.
Finally, we know that despite declines in trust, majorities across a wide variety of demographic differences, including age, race, gender, income, and party affiliation trust nonprofits.
In many ways, people in our community are primed and ready to believe in the good, and now it’s time for nonprofits to step into their power as the place where that good is channeled, honed, and spread to ensure everyone in our region can reach their full potential.