How to build trust online as a B Corp

Anna Wiseman
03 Mar 2023

At Lightful, we believe that trust is a key foundation for our economy and society. Building Trust is at the heart of what we do at Lightful. Our three Co-Founders, Carlos Miranda, Vinay Nair, and Johnny Murnane, all arrived at this conclusion through quite different journeys. They had various backgrounds in impact investing, tech and consulting with the charity sector. They would work with incredible nonprofits, but when they engaged with them online, their websites and social media presence didn’t do justice to the power and impact of their organisation. If you visit a website with out of date information, or broken links etc, you are not filled with confidence that the organisation is trustworthy. You wouldn’t buy from a retailer with a website like that - so why would you donate money or promote the cause? It makes it feel a bit unreliable, and so lending your support or funds could be risky. This creates a real problem for nonprofits, limiting their reach and ability to raise unrestricted funds from everyday donors and others. They set up Lightful to tackle this key problem of building trust.

As part of our series on Building Trust, we decided to talk to Lightful’s very own Vinay Nair and get his perspective on trust building as our CEO. We wanted to highlight how important trust is for us as a B Corp - particularly in honour of B Corp month in March. Vinay has a deep belief in the nonprofit sector’s ability to build bridges in our society and support people who are vulnerable. The reality is, though, that they are often under-supported and lack the investment needed to achieve their missions. At Lightful we’re all about giving nonprofits the right tools, skills and support so that they can engage with their stakeholders to raise more awareness and funds. If they have the power to deliver impact in their communities, they can create more equitable communities and a safer planet.

What role do you think trust plays in the nonprofit sector?

I think trust is one of the most important aspects of life today - not just for an impactful nonprofit sector, but for our economy and society as a whole. I believe that trust has underpinned some of the huge social advancements and strides we have made in terms of equality, equity and justice in recent years and decades. For instance, the recent Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s 2022 Goalkeepers Report made clear the value of human ingenuity in solving global crises past and present, referencing the AIDS epidemic and Coronavirus pandemic. A vital underpinning to help that ingenuity flourish is trust, which enables innovations (such as new vaccines and other treatments) to not only be developed but then rolled out quickly and globally.

Yet in recent times, we have been seeing a rapid breakdown of that trust that has actually affected our very social fabric.

I believe there's a really interesting opportunity for the nonprofit sector to play a key role to rebuild that trust in our society. In recent years, people’s trust in some institutions has gone down - governments and the media are reported in Edelman’s Trust Barometer as the least ethical and least competent, but for NGOs and local charities trust has remained relatively high. So I think trust for nonprofits really comes from the fact that these organisations are authentic, that they're steeped in their communities, that they are doing work that genuinely helps support those who are poor, who are vulnerable, who are marginalised. Trust is core to who they are.

I think it is really important that nonprofits find a way to lean into that authenticity, and to share how they build trust in their communities of end users and beneficiaries. They are doing great work - but are they telling that story, properly, to the right audiences? If they can build trust with their funders, supporters, with different stakeholders, as successfully, they can demonstrate that it isn't a sort of Us vs Them, Funder vs Nonprofit scenario. Historically there were these perceptions, as if funders and nonprofits weren’t all working towards the same goals of helping end-user beneficiaries. I think those old constructs can melt away.

Trust, I think, is the heart of what we need to invest in and nonprofits have an incredible and unique position in society to be able to do this. When it comes to Lightful, that's why we really believe we can help nonprofits with support, tools and skills so that they can build and retain trust for the benefit of everyone.

In what ways is trust important for Lightful?

Trust is absolutely integral to who Lightful is, to what we want to achieve and how we operate. In recent years there’s been an expansion of social purpose, outside of the nonprofit sector. We’ve started to see organisations of all kinds evolve - for profit and governmental and academic institutions. I've been very proud to lead Lightful at the front lines of what that means, a business which works to benefit all people, communities, and the planet - a B Corp. We want to support the nonprofit sector to be able to build trust and have greater power, so that they can create more impact in their community.

We can't talk about how important trust is, and help organisations build it, if we aren't walking that walk ourselves. What this means for Lightful is that we strive to be authentic as we engage with civil society, we have a genuine drive to see nonprofits fulfilling their potential to change the world. We seek to retain humility, but we also recognise the scale of social and environmental challenges that exist so we’re audacious in our ambition and goal-setting so that our work can bring benefits to as many nonprofits as possible.

Trust is a vital part of our culture, in terms of every single member of the team being trusted and being able to trust their employer and teammates. We consider trust in terms of our brand, how can we make sure the messages that we’re putting out there are truly reflective of who we are, what we believe and what we do every day at Lightful. Everything we do is informed by how we think people will talk about us when we're not in the room.

We build trust by talking openly, having two-way communication and being clear about what we do. We work with thousands of nonprofits all over the world; how we talk, and how we engage with our partners is all about making sure that they feel that we’re supporting them. I think trust is the heartbeat that underpins a lot of this.

How do you build trust? Are there any particular tools or techniques that you use?

From my perspective, I don't think it's about a single tool or trick, or hack that can build trust. It's more around the fundamental operating environment of how you do your work, not just what you do, but how you do it. When it comes to the members of the Lightful team, every single person is deeply committed to our values, to being generous with each other but also accountable to our stakeholders. We want to be able to support them to achieve their goals. So for us, building trust is all about our team: the recruiting, onboarding, retaining of exceptional people who are values-driven and highly skilled. We need this to be able to provide the skills development, tools and support to nonprofits to do their best work.

I think fundamental things like good communication are vital. Whether that's in a virtual meeting room, or presenting at a conference on the stage with a real-life audience. Articulating what's driving all of us at Lightful, and demonstrating that we share the goals of the nonprofit sector is what helps us to build trust. We have to be really clear about how what we do helps organisations to create more change and impact, faster.

We build trust by making the skills that nonprofits need accessible to them - doing what we promise. For every organisation that is different: it might be about having more thumb-stopping content as everyday supporters roll through their social feeds in order to increase audience engagement. Whatever they need, it's about us giving them expert advice and practical tools to use as part of a broader digital strategy. But most importantly, it’s about how we do all of that.

We want to help our clients, partners and stakeholders - which for us is the whole nonprofit sector, in a very meaningful and substantive way. I believe that if you don’t do that then all of it starts melting away. So I think, for me, it's not really about a tool that you adopt, but more a culture that you live.

What are some of the challenges you face when trying to build trust as a B Corp?

There are a few challenges of building trust as a B Corp. Sometimes when you're working with other purpose-led organisations all the time, you can think that it goes without saying that we focus on aligning profit and purpose. It’s easy to forget that not all businesses are doing that. However, the B Corp movement is still in its infancy and relatively small: last year the UK welcomed their 1000th B Corp.

So, when it comes to building trust as a B Corp, it can be more challenging for people to fully grasp the hows, and particularly the whys, of what we’re doing at Lightful. Since B Corp is such a new and innovative model, we often find ourselves speaking to stakeholders that may not be as familiar with what it represents. Therefore there can be new and challenging hurdles to surmount when talking about Lightful. We don’t only need to help them understand how we can help them, but also try to persuade them that business can be a force for good.

That's one of the things that really can be hard, but I can completely understand why some people may be incredulous. Historically, profit-making companies have done the opposite of putting values and purpose at the heart of what they do. So, we (and other B Corps) are trying to help society see that it doesn’t have to be that way and that there are already businesses making a positive impact on their customers, staff and the wider world.

In some ways, we’re having to do a whole information-sharing piece to help really build trust - before we can even start talking to people about how we might work together. We have to get back to base camp before building forward positively. But, for us, it is absolutely worth it. We find that once people do really understand who we are and what we’re trying to do, they get fully on board. We have partners that we’ve been working with for years, and most of our new partners come from word of mouth - so I think that speaks volumes about the level of trust they have in us.

Although the UK B Corp community may be relatively small, it’s growing fast (it doubled in size in 2022) and we’re incredibly proud to be a part of this amazing group of businesses trying to make a difference.

Key takeaways

  • Trust is vital for our economy and society to function.
  • Nonprofits hold a unique place to be able to build trust in our society.
  • Nonprofits need more support, tools and skills to be able to build that trust.
  • B Corp is a great standard to hold businesses accountable to.

This post is part of a series we’re producing with some of the great foundations, philanthropists, institutions and nonprofits we work with. If you want to be sure to catch the next ones, please subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on LinkedIn.

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