6 Characteristics of a Nonprofit Trust Agent

Post by Frank Barry - 9.2.2009 - Follow me on Twitter

I’ve been reading Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. What’s it about you ask? “Using the web to build influence, improve reputation, and earn trust”. It’s written with a focus on business relationships, but everything is applicable to the nonprofit space. Corporations and nonprofits will benefit. The core message is all about building trust on the social web and it’s filled with practical ideas and tactics that nonprofits should be thinking about based on where the internet is headed

So what’s a Trust Agent? The book takes 260 pages to define it. I’ll give you the short version.


“Digital natives using the web to be genuine and to humanize their business (or nonprofit)”

Let’s dig into the 6 characteristics of a nonprofit Trust Agent

Chris Brogan - Trust Agents the Book1) Passionate

Chris and Julien don’t directly talk about passion, but it’s threaded into everything you read. You see, without passion it’s impossible to be a Trust Agent. If you don’t have passion people will see right through you. If you don’t have passion in the nonprofit space people will be less likely to give, volunteer and serve. Remember, your passion rubs off on others and so does your lack of passion. Trust Agent’s are passionate about what they do.


          Example: ChildFund


2) Educated

Education is at the core of what Chris and Julien are doing – they’re teaching people how to be Trust Agents. In the same way you need to be educated and able to educate others as a nonprofit Trust Agent. It’s important to know what your organization is all about, how it’s making an impact, where it’s work is being done and who it’s helping. It’s also important that you be able to help others understand these things through the social web. Each of these goes hand in hand with being a trusted source online. You’ve got to be able to help others know you.


          Example: The Humane Society


3) Connected

Three principals are used to help shape how you think of connection on the social web – Being “One of Us”, Gaining and using “Leverage” and becoming “Agent Zero”. I won’t go into to much detail because you should read the book to get all the dirt, but let me touch briefly on each as it relates to nonprofits.

  • One of us refers to immersing your self in the social web. Having a hang out or regular place where others know who you are, interact with you and see you regularly is an important step in building your online reputation. As a nonprofit it’s important to have an active presence on the web. Make Facebook you home base. Blog regularly. Engage with people on Twitter. Do what ever makes sense for you, but don’t sit around and do nothing. It takes time to earn our trust and respect by become one of us so get on it.

  • Leverage refers to using your success in one area to influence another. If you’re a successful nonprofit with a large brand or following use that to help build your online presence quickly. Leverage the relationships with people who are already online to help you become a trusted source more quickly. You can also think about this from the perspective of empowering your supporters to leverage their networks because of their passion for your case. Beth Kanter demonstrated this live at Gnomedex.

  • Agent Zero refers to being at the center of a network. The one who brings others together. Who connects people…Who shares tirelessly…Who continuously helps. As a nonprofit online it should be your mission to become agent zero for your network. You have supporters who are online. Help them get to know each other and support each other. You have donors online. Thank them. Share good news with them. You have volunteers online. Help them see how their work is making an impact. Connect them with other ways to get involved. In short, be the one who’s building a network of people who can help you change the world!


          Example: Lance Armstrong Foundation


4) Digital Native

Its part of the Trust Agents definition, but what does it really mean? Being a digital native means you’ve grown up with digital and online technologies. You we’re born using a computer, talking on a cell phone and browsing the Internet. You can text with your eyes closed and you wouldn’t know what to do without your iPhone. Nonprofits need people like this because the world is continuing to do more and more online. Having people on staff who have grown up in this type of world is much different than having people who have been adopted into the world through learning things as they’ve come along. For those who grew up in the digital world it’s second nature to interact on the web in a human way – reflexive almost. These types of individuals are the ones who will help you succeed on the social web.


          Example: National Wildlife Foundation


5) Caring

At the heart of a Trust Agent is a longing to keep things human focused and personal. A Trust Agent cares. It’s as simple as that. The nonprofit space is filled with people who care about something. Most wouldn’t be involved if it wasn’t for their desire to see things change out of the care they have for their cause. As a Trust Agent you have to figure out how to demonstrate your care in an online world where human interaction is void.


          Example: Athletes for a Cure


6) Helpful

Trust agents are helpful people. They want to share information freely. They want to help others succeed. They want to be there when someone is in need. They want to help their network of people online feel connected and taken care of. If you’re a nonprofit organization that’s always around to help others, you’ll go a long way with on the social web.


          Example: American Red Cross


The book’s filled with ton’s more great insights and ideas. The six above aren’t even part of the core seven concepts Brogan and Smith discuss. You’ve got a lot to look forward to. Did I mention that it’s a NY Times bestseller?

There are quite a few great reviews written that you can check out to get an even better picture of what the book is all about. Here’s a few to get you started: Christopher S. Penn, Amber Naslund, Jason FallsKivi Leroux Miller & Jay Baer


Disclosure: I don’t know Julien at all. I know Chris a bit from our online interaction. I’m not being paid for writing this. I like what Chris and Julien have to say and think you can learn something from it as a nonprofit. That’s it.


Check these out for more ideas on building trust online:


Can you see these ideas and concepts applying to your work online? How have you seen some of them come to life for you?


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