The nonprofit agency where I used to work ran a Head Start program. Head Start serves children ages three to five. You would think that parents of six-year-olds would forget all about the program.
Yet long after their children went on to kindergarten, parents kept coming back to the Head Start program. They asked for help getting affordable housing, food, and clothing. They asked the Head Start staff for advice about school choice, immigration, parenting, and even how to respond to violence in their homes.
Our Head Start staff had become trust agents.
As Chris Brogan and Julien Smith say in their book of the same name, there’s an unbelievable amount of information available today because of the internet, yet some of it is partial, wrong, or even dangerous. If you can show people that you know what you’re talking about and you are on their side, they will trust you and listen to you.
Nonprofits are in an especially good position to win people’s trust. Look what the Head Start program did.
- They spent time with parents. Teachers invited parents to assist in the classrooms, stop to talk when they picked up their children, come to parent meetings, and actually help run the organization through the Policy Council.
- They listened. Head Start hired staff who spoke the languages the parents spoke, and the staff made sure the parents’ words went to the ears of the program director.
- They showed they were “one of us.” Half the people who worked in the program were former Head Start parents!
- They found and shared useful information, from how immigrants could cook healthier food that would still be familiar in their culture to how learning disabled students could get services from the public schools.
- They built and leveraged relationships that would benefit the parents and children. Doctors did free medical care. Bankers gave free workshops on credit and family finances. Another department of the same agency helped families avoid being evicted from their homes, while partner agencies gave books and conducted literacy activities with families.
Some nonprofits are based in a geographic community, while others create communities of interest through their work. Either way, they are ideally positioned to be “trust agents.” All they need is the internet savvy. There are ways to learn that.
Do you work for a nonprofit that has earned the trust of the community (real world or online)? How do you do it?