Survey: Local government officials in Indiana trust local nonprofits more than they do government

  • March 9, 2016


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Local government officials in Indiana trust local charities and nonprofits to “do the right thing” more than they trust other units of government or local businesses, according to new Indiana University research.

The researchers examined the extent to which local government officials trust local nonprofits and the factors that contribute to increased levels of trust. Almost nine in 10 (86 percent) report that they trust local charities to do the right thing always, almost always or most of the time. By contrast, only 37 percent have a similar level of trust in state government, and even fewer (27 percent) have this level of trust in the federal government.

“Trust in nonprofits -- the belief that they will ‘do the right thing’ -- makes it easier for government officials to rely on nonprofits to deliver services and to include nonprofits in a variety of collaborative efforts,” said Kirsten Grønbjerg, associate dean of faculty affairs at the Indiana University Bloomington School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the Efroymson Chair in Philanthropy at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy in Indianapolis. “For nonprofits, being trusted partners of local government greatly facilitates their ability to operate effectively in local communities.”

Data for the analysis, presented as a briefing, comes from a survey of 1,185 local government officials conducted by the Indiana Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations in the fall of 2012.

The briefing examines a number of possible explanations for why local government officials -- referred to as LGOs -- may trust local charities and other nonprofits. Explanations include personal involvement with nonprofits, political and economic conditions in their communities and having good working relationships with nonprofits. All of these factors appear to play a role.

When considering all factors together, higher levels of trust were found among local government officials that:

  • Personally are involved with philanthropy and promotion of voluntarism or with law, advocacy and political nonprofits.
  • Trust other local institutions.
  • Work in metropolitan counties.
  • Govern in counties with relatively low levels of aggregate nonprofit revenues.

But the type of position held by local government officials is also important. Trust is relatively low among LGOs who are mayors, council members or township trustees.

The authors conclude that there are relatively few avenues for nonprofits to pursue if they wish local government officials to trust them “to do the right thing.” They can engagement with LGOs by philanthropic institutions, by organizations that promote volunteerism, and by law, advocacy and political nonprofits, as these are the types of nonprofits through which LGOs appear to develop higher levels of trust. They can also focus on their working relationships with local government and make those as positive and constructive as possible.

Targeting mayors and town and county council members is important because these individuals formulate policies of interest and concern to local charities and nonprofits. The same argument holds for township trustees and trustee assessors. However, it is also risky since these local government officials express relatively low confidence in nonprofits in the final prediction equations.

More information is available online about the "Indiana Nonprofits: Scope and Community Dimensions" project. The "Indiana Government Officials and Trust in Nonprofits” briefing is also available online.

Other findings are published in “Indiana Government Officials and Trust in Nonprofits,” briefing No. 4 in a series focused on nonprofit-government relations in Indiana from the Indiana Nonprofits: Scope and Community Dimensions project.

About the briefing

This briefing is the fourth in a series by the Indiana Nonprofits: Scope and Community Dimensions project, used to inform local community leaders and policymakers. The analysis is a joint effort of the Indiana University Public Policy Institute, the School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. The briefing’s co-authors are director of the project, Kirsten Grønbjerg; Ph.D. candidate Kellie McGiverin-Bohan; Ph.D. candidate Lauren Dula; and former Master of Public Affairs students Angela Gallagher and Rachel Miller.

For more information or to speak with Grønbjerg, contact Jim Hanchett at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, 812-856-5490 or; or Adriene Davis Kalugyer at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, 317-278-8972 or

About the Indiana University Public Policy Institute

The IU Public Policy Institute was created by Indiana University as an institute within the School of Public and Environmental Affairs to provide unbiased research and expert analysis. The institute was officially established in 2008 as an umbrella organization for the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment and the Center for Criminal Justice Research. Today, the institute delivers expertise in research areas including criminal justice, public safety, housing and community development, land use and the environment, and economic development.

About the School of Public and Environmental Affairs

SPEA is a world leader in public and environmental affairs and is the largest school of public administration and public policy in the United States. In the 2012 "Best Graduate Schools" by U.S. News & World Report, SPEA ranks second and is the nation's highest-ranked professional graduate program in public affairs at a public institution. Four of its specialty programs are ranked in the top-five listings, including nonprofit management, ranked first. SPEA's doctoral programs in public affairs and public policy are ranked by the National Academy of Science as among the best in the country.

About the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy is dedicated to improving philanthropy to improve the world by training and empowering students and professionals to be innovators and leaders who create positive and lasting change. The school offers a comprehensive approach to philanthropy -- voluntary action for the public good -- through its academic, research and international programs and through The Fund Raising School, Lake Institute on Faith & Giving and the Women’s Philanthropy Institute.

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Kirsten Gr?nbjerg

Kirsten Gr?nbjerg

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Media Contacts

Jim Hanchett

  • School of Public and Environmental Affairs
  • Office 812-856-5490

Adriene Davis Kalugyer

  • Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
  • Office 317-278-8972