It's a bit of a Catch 22 - when it comes to supporting a charity with your time, talent, treasure, or network - its hard to take the first step if you don't trust the organization BUT it's hard to trust the organization if you haven't tried them in some way.
In the business world there is a well known process for building customer relationships: Know > Like > Trust > Try > Buy > Repeat > Refer; cultivating a great relationship between a business and it's clients follows this proven structure.
The non-profit world is a little different from what I've seen. Building great relationships with volunteers, donors, and partners can follow ALMOST the same pattern of growth with one crucial difference: flipping Try and Trust.
When it comes to engaging with a charity or ministry, there is a surprising measure of skepticism and caution about diving into work with an organization . . . Trust is more elusive and has a higher threshold before it can be shared between supporters and an organization.
In order to work towards a shared trust, organizations need to create "test drive" opportunities so that would be donors and volunteers can experience "Try" and if that goes well, move on to extending Trust. By lowering the barrier to entry and backing away from over-asking too soon, organizations have a chance to create low-stakes and short-term projects that our community can join in on and get a taste of what it could look like to partner in a deeper way in the long run.
Leading the Ugandan Water Project, we built these first steps into so many parts of our work. Sponsoring individual water projects of all sizes allowed for a single meaningful encounter with our mission that could easily be followed by deeper partnership BUT could also be a simple end that still provided a shared celebration. Volunteering at an event or taking a trip to Uganda was a great experience in itself but also opened eyes to see what could come of hosting an event or serving on the Board for the organization.
Each organization's "try" is going to look different but will commonly allow for a defined and limited commitment of time, money, energy, etc. These opportunities will also connect
directly to the core mission of the organization or, for larger organizations, the area of the organization's work that you are inviting people to consider for more significant personal contribution.
It makes sense why this skepticism and apprehension exists to the degree it does. I've seen the same content you have in the media about charities and churches mis-using funds or devaluing the people that serve their cause. As much as those stories amply and frame
some of our defensive posture, I actually think the real explanation is deeper. When we make a consumer purchase we have a transactional level of commitment and expectation attached to the relationship. But when we give to a charitable organization we tend to have a much deeper level of attachment to our actions. Rather than transactional, our orientation is driven by our core values and passions, often connected to deeply meaningful (and sometimes hurtful) experiences and relationship from our life. We are giving for legacy and to create transformation . . . it can be infinitely more precious and therefore we protect and guard that potential level of vulnerability and personal connection.
Try before you buy isn't just a scheme to hook a new donor - it's a genuine extension of trust initiated by the organization that says "Come and see if this is a good fit for what is in your heart, decide for yourself if there's a place for you to be part of this larger mission. If not, then be free - go and find the right place for you to shine your light."
When organizations initiate their trust of the prospective partner by creating test-drive opportunities it is essentially the charity planting their seeds of trust in the soil of people's lives and seeing if it germinates and grows a harvest of trust to be shared in return.
There are many lessons and models that our non-profit sector can draw directly from the business world. The key is discerning when and why there needs to be a translation of sorts before transplanting that wisdom into our organizations.
If you find that you aren't seeing curious connections move deeper into your non-profit's community, consider if you need to offer a chance to try your org out before those prospective partners extend the trust that will build a vibrant long-term partnership.