Wiencierz, Christian; Pöppel, Katharina G.; & Röttger, Ulrike (2015). Where does my money go? How online comments on a donation campaign influence the perceived trustworthiness of a nonprofit organization. International Journal of Strategic Communication, 9(2), 102-117. DOI: 10.1080/1553118X.2015.1008634


Nonprofit organizations (NPOs) are increasingly using social media to spread campaigns. Little research has focused on the influence of user comments on trust in NPOs regarding campaigns in social media. Stakeholders’ trust is seen as important for NPOs. Two experimental studies examine the influence of user comments with different connotations concerning campaigns that were published on the social networking site Facebook. The first experiment focused on the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The second experiment applied to a fictitious NPO, to avoid reputation influence. Irrespective of the NPO’s reputation, the results show that user comments in social media influence the perceived trustworthiness of NPOs. Trustworthiness is fundamental to acts of trust such as those taking the form of a donation.


Two experiments were conducted. The first study was an online experiment with a 3 (connotation: positive vs. negative vs. positive and negative comments) x 2 (likes: high amount of likes vs. no likes) between-subjects factorial design and a control group without comments and likes with interlocked quotas according to age and sex (N = 369 people; 51% males, 18 to 69 years; M = 44.36; SD = 14.06). In the second independent experiment the fictitious advertising was presented as a Facebook screenshot with exclusively positive or negative user comments in a between-subject design (N = 89; 51% males; 18 to 68 years; M = 42.74, SD = 14.43).

Key Findings

  • Negative comments resulted in a lower level of perceived trustworthiness.
  • In contrast, positive comments have no additional effect compared to balanced comments or the absence of comments, which shows the pure campaign effect without manipulations.
  • The likes have no influence on the evaluation of trustworthiness. Moreover, it is apparent that the like function receives little attention or is only noticed at an unconscious level.
  • The likelihood of an act of trust in the form of a donation or a recommendation of the campaign to others increased if the NPO was perceived as trustworthy.
  • There is a link between reputation and trustworthiness as two distinct constructs.

Implications for Practice

The results suggest that NPOs ought to monitor their social media presence because predominantly negative comments can lead to a less favorable evaluation of an NPO with respect to trustworthiness. Recognition of such negative comments enables the NPO to respond to them. For instance, it can enter into a dialog to try to counteract the negative impression that has been conveyed. If participants recognize a balance of both negative and positive comments, the negative impression is also counteracted. Therefore, it is important that NPOs should use their limited resources to develop a community of supporters in social media. This approach could enhance the likelihood of positive comments by supporters.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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