Date of Award

Summer 1997

Degree Type

Thesis - Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Turner, Lynn

Second Advisor

Soley, Lawrence

Third Advisor

Simmons, Karl


My interest in doing my Master's thesis on the perception of trust and relevance held toward nonprofit organizations came from both my personal connection to the nonprofit organization I work for and also the increasing realization of the unclear roles they are playing in America. It was initially generated when I discovered there were no accepted definitions of what a "nonprofit" organization really was and gained impetus as I read of the increasing negative publicity many nonprofits were getting in the media over much the same issue. When it became evident to me that a large amount of this criticism dealt with problems that were well-documented and serious to the point people were being convicted of criminal behaviors, I became convinced that the effect of such publicity on the trust and relevance people held about nonprofits was an area which needed to be examined. What I have attempted to do here is supply the reader with valuable research information which sheds light on how the public feels about the largest, most well-known and visible nonprofit organization in this country, the American Red Cross. My purpose in this study has been to examine the relationship between the perceived trust and relevance that nonprofit organizations such as the ARC need. Those nonprofits which serve the public good should not be hobbled by the few that are devoid of ethics, and must also learn from their mistakes by understanding how the public sees them. This paper is by no means a definitive study on what makes nonprofits work, why people trust (or distrust) them or why they are perceived to be relevant in the first place. Additionally, my findings may or may not be generalizable on a national scale. But I believe that it paints a fairly accurate picture of how the general public perceives the American Red Cross and similar public service organizations in the current climate of skepticism held towards many large organizations in this country, based on my findings and my own work experience with the ARC.