The Most Strategic Resource a Nonprofit Can Raise Up? Role Models, Not Donors

Great to see Katya Andresen blogging daily–an inspiration to the rest of us three-posts-a-week sluggards. And the frequency is improving her content, not diluting it. Imagine that.

Case in point: Katya’s recent post on the new Edelman trust barometer which shows that our trust in people like us as sources of business information is falling (Edelman suggests that “over-friending” is the culprit), whereas trust in “credentialed experts” is “soaring.”

Her conclusion is vintage Katya:

Here’s what I believe to be true: people trust your organization less than an expert AND less than their friends.

Her advice:

If you want credibility, get a third party doing the talking.  Use a combination of trusted authorities (who don’t work at your organization) and your biggest champions, who are great spokespeople for their own circles of influence.

Agreed. And yet let me pile on here a little more, noting a different study that also came out this month, namely, Barna’s report on who teens turn to as role models. The upshot of that study:

So who do teenagers name as their role models? Even while limiting the answers to non-parents, family members still comes out on top. The most commonly mentioned role model is a relative—37% of teens named a relation other than their parent as the person they admire most. This is typically a grandparent, but also includes sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, and uncles.After “family,” teens mention teachers and coaches (11%), friends (9%), and pastors or other religious leaders they know personally (6%).

Notice that a majority of teens indicated that the people they most admire and imitate are those with whom they maintain a personal connection, friendship, or interaction.

Beyond the realm of the people they know personally, entertainers (including musicians and actors) were named by 6% of teens, followed by sports heroes (5%), political leaders (4%), faith leaders (4%), business leaders (1%), authors (1%), science and medical professionals (1%), other artists (1%), and members of the military (1%).

Note that business leaders don’t fare nearly so well in this study, garnering a meager 1% of response.

What’s the difference?

  • The Edelman study asked, “If you heard information about a company from one of these people, how credible would that information be?”
  • The Barna study asked, “Other than your parents, who is the person whom you most admire today?”

So Edelman’s conclusion really shouldn’t be that trust in people like us is down; it should be that trust in people like us is down in the area of information about companies.

The Barna study reveals that trust in people like us remains high as shapers of the lives of those in our sphere of influence. And the Barna study shows why that’s true: character in proximity.

Respondents described a wide range of reasons why they named a particular role model. The most common rationale (26%) was the personality traits of that person (e.g., caring about others, being loving and polite, being courageous, and being fun were some of the characteristics mentioned most often). Another factor in teens’ thinking was finding someone to emulate (22%) or that the teen would like to “follow in the footsteps” of their chosen role model.

Encouragement is another reason for teens’ selections (11%), which included those who said the individual “helps me be a better person,” is someone who is “always there for me,” and is the person who is “most interested in my future.” Other reasons: the role model accomplished his or her goals (13%), overcame adversity (9%), works hard (7%), is intelligent (7%), performs humanitarian effort and activism (6%), maintains strong faith (6%), has great talent (5%), and exudes self-confidence (1%).

Taken together, the studies lay out a clear path for nonprofits:

  • Don’t seek to be experts, but
  • Don’t raise up champions to sing your praises either.
  • Instead, serve as a platform whereby champions can get experience and training in how to serve as role models to those in their own spheres of influence, leading a new generation to care about and participate in the cause you all share.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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