Trust Fund: The value of building trust in a cynical world

"Did I mention it's gluten-free?"
"Did I mention it's gluten-free?"

Michael Maslansky wrote the book on effective communication. Literally. It’s called The Language of Trust and it is a must-read for anyone trying to sell anything to a “new era of consumers who listen less and question more.”

Michael was way ahead of the curve on the issue of generational trust levels, but the mainstream media is starting to catch up. According to a recent Washington Postarticle, “companies predicated on trust among strangers [e.g. Uber, Airbnb] are rising as general trust in society is falling … National survey data confirms that trust in others is lower now in the United States than at any point in the past four decades.”

And trust in corporations? Fugetaboutit. Sixty-two percent of those surveyed said they trust brands less, according to the Post. And this lack of trust is worst among Millennials.

Why then—if so many of us view the world as overrun by strangers with candy—are we so willing to hop into a stranger’s car driven by a stranger (Uber) to a stranger’s house where we plan to stay the night in a stranger’s bed (Airbnb) after a rousing night of kickball and beers with strangers who happen to share our passion for getting drunk and reliving our childhood (Meetup)?

Well, according to a recent report by Price Waterhouse Cooper, “if trust in individuals and institutions is waning … faith in the aggregate is growing.”

Or, as the Post put it, “I don’t trust you, Random Guy Giving Me a Ride Home, but I do trust the 4.9-star average rating of all the people who have been in your car before.”

In other words, millions of millennials who live in fear of accidentally ingesting glutens have no qualms about hitching a ride with a complete stranger because they read—and trust—the digital “hobo signs” left by the intrepid members of their community who came before them. They may not trust “four out of five dentists” anymore but they wholeheartedly trust members of their community, however that is defined.

So what does that mean to you, the nonprofit, foundation, or NGO that needs to connect with this generation?


If you want to be heard, you have to quit trying to be the smartest kid in class and start acting more like a den mother hosting a Cub Scout meeting.

Young people aren’t listening to what you have to say. And even if one of their ear buds popped out and they accidently heard what you said, they wouldn’t believe you. You aren’t part of their community … yet.

But if you happened to provide community platform—a vibrant online “hangout” where people who share your passion on a given issue could gather—you’re very likely going to be warmly welcomed by the community that you assembled. This is particularly true for nonprofits and other quest-driven organizations.

And it’s a lot easier than it sounds.

But I see that class is almost over and many of you are already loudly gathering up your books. So we’ll cover the details of how to build that platform in our next class.

Have a great weekend, everybody.