The phenomenon of closing civic space has adversely impacted international non-governmental organization (INGO) funding. We argue that individual private donors can be important in sustaining the operations of INGOs working in repressive contexts. Individual donors do not use the same performance-based metrics as official aid donors. Rather, trust can be an important component of individual donor support for nonprofits working towards difficult goals. How does trust in charitable organizations influence individuals' preferences to donate, especially when these groups face crackdown? Using a simulated market for philanthropic donations based on data from a nationally representative sample of individuals in the United States who regularly donate to charity, we find that trust in INGOs matters substantially in shaping donor preferences. Donor profiles with high levels of social trust are likely to donate to INGOs with friendly relationships with host governments. This support holds steady if INGOs face criticism or crackdown. In contrast, donor profiles with lower levels of social trust prefer to donate to organizations that do not face criticism or crackdown abroad. The global crackdown on NGOs may thus possibly sour NGOs' least trusting individual donors. Our findings have practical implications for INGOs raising funds from individuals amid closing civic space.
- In the wake of the global crackdown on civil society, international NGOs (INGOs) need to maintain access to multiple sources of funding, including individual donors.
- It is critical for INGOs to understand what motivates individuals to donate, especially if INGOs face legal crackdown in their host countries.
- Trust in political institutions and in charitable organizations matters substantially in shaping donor preferences.
- We find that potential donors with low social trust tend to be wary of negative host-country relationships and prefer to donate to INGOs that are friendly with their host governments, while potential donors with high social trust are more willing to stick with legally besieged INGOs.
- Donors that are the most trusting and involved may remain supportive when charities face government criticism and crackdown. The global crackdown on NGOs may also possibly sour NGOs' least trusting individual donors.