4 Examples Proving Nonprofits Should Offer Trust as a Service (TaaS)

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In 2020 as the pandemic encroached on our daily lives, food delivery services saw spikes in demand. Along with the pandemic-driven surge in food delivery, there was a surge in viral videos showing delivery workers from places like UberEats and Doordash eating, spitting, and doing other vile things to customers’ food.

Out of those unsettling images came a new idea: security stickers on takeout. Somewhere, there is a company selling the likes of UberEats and Grubhub security stickers because customers love to feel good about their food. Customers love being able to trust that their food arrives to them just as ordered, just like it went straight from the kitchen to their hands. In a world increasingly marked by scams and fraud, trust is priceless. 

Like the stickers are for food delivery, the trust as a service model is a great opportunity for most businesses today. The model is defined by two mains steps. The first step is figuring out where customers lack a feeling of safety or security. Then, the next step is figuring out what satisfies that need and creating a product, program, or certification that fulfills it. It takes time to build trust, and it can take time to find the right tool to build trust at scale. 

Historically, the trust as a service model has been used to grow businesses, get new customers, and set industry service/safety standards.

For nonprofits specifically, the name “nonprofit” can deter adopting a pay-for-trust model. It’s still critical to think about the economic engine when starting a nonprofit that wants to scale. A common issue with nonprofits is when founders rely on donation or philanthropic dependency rather than considering earned revenue models. There is a huge opportunity in using the organization’s mission to support a TaaS model to generate revenue while also pursuing the nonprofit’s goals.

Perhaps more than you realize, various companies and organizations have used trust as a service to sell you security or certification. When this happens, it doesn’t feel like you’re being sold much of anything because of how much safer and confident you feel.

Here are four examples of major players who successfully sell trust as well as the details on how they make their money, what we can learn from them, and how selling trust drives revenue.

LEED: How LEED Certification Became the Brand for Sustainable Buildings

When you see a building with a LEED-certified plaque, you probably immediately think about how sustainable and green that building is according to the highest standard. LEED built a brand on trust by becoming the gold-standard rating for green buildings.

According to the LEED website, “People know that if they are in a LEED-certified building they are using less energy and water, avoiding waste, saving on maintenance costs, improving indoor air quality, offering comfort to their occupants, and creating less environmental burden on their community.”

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) origin story begins in 1993 when a coalition of architects were brought together by the U.S. Green Building Council, the group that LEED is a part of. This group talked about how to create a green rating system for the building industry and created LEED. Now, LEED has grown into the most widely used green building rating system in the world. 

When buildings are LEED-certified, it’s a badge of honor and gives bragging rights. But it’s much more than that to buildings and businesses who win over certification. LEED offers some good incentives for getting certified including helping leaders meet ESG goals and billions in energy savings, happier employees, and significantly reduced carbon emissions.

In a time where threats to our climate are ever-present, a brand like this stays relevant and grows more powerful by providing trust in a crucial and urgent area. 

How they make money:

The U.S. Green Building Council makes sure that LEED brings in multiple streams of revenue. There are membership fees to be affiliated with the group in order to network, help your employees have access to learning tools, savings related to green building expos, and more. There are also fees to get any space LEED-certified. As of 2019, LEED posted a $31 million revenue and $6 million loss. Financial reports since 2019 may show these trends flipping, but either way, a global push to sustainability and green goals puts LEED in a clear advantage over the long run.  

Rainforest Alliance: The Frog to Look for If You Want More Ethical Food

If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many little frogs on labels in stores like Whole Foods, it’s because they’re certifiably more ethical and sustainable than other products. 

The Rainforest Alliance mission is to create “a more sustainable world by using social and market forces to protect nature and improve the lives of farmers and forest communities.” They do this, chiefly, through an alliance that spans “70 countries and includes farmers and forest communities, companies, governments, civil society, and millions of individuals.” This allows them to work to protect forests, biodiversity, climate, and the rights of rural people. 

Even though certifications for food being organic or sustainable is a more diluted market, certification from the Rainforest Alliance is comparable to certification from LEED. Just like with the green building scale, the frog embellishment is a highly-coveted stamp of sustainability approval.

How they make money:

To make their money, the Rainforest Alliance mostly relies on royalties from certification, grants from governments and foundations, and donations from individuals. Of their total revenue, 67% was from loyalties, which means that the Rainforest Alliance frog seal is a highly wanted and highly priced stamp of approval. Governments and contracts provided the next biggest amount of 16% to total revenue. In 2020, the nonprofit that sell’s trust when it comes to our food had a total revenue near $74 million and profit over $8.5 million.  

Consumer Reports: The Ad-Free Site That Rigorously Tests and Reviews Big Buys So You Don’t Have to Waste the Time

Amazon Reviews are always caught up in new fiascos. Influencers can easily lose your trust when they do too many sponsored posts. It’s hard to trust which products are good and which have a big marketing team behind them. This matters a lot because you can easily lose time and money buying the wrong product until you find what’s good for you.

Consumer Reports is an independent nonprofit member organization and the OG source for truly trustworthy product reviews, especially for the things that are hardest and most costly to test like dishwashers, leaf blowers, and air fryers. Unlike any other organization on this list, they’ve been providing trust as a service for almost one hundred years, starting in 1936. 

Today, Consumer Reports has almost six million members. Trust sells, especially when the alternative is losing your money, losing time, and growing frustrated. 

How they make money:

In 2020, Consumer Reports financials show they’re running a $250 million in revenue business with at least $16 million profits. A large part of their revenue comes from membership subscriptions followed by grants and donations. Being a basic and unpaid member is an option, but folks pay up to $59 every year for full access to published reviews, best time to buy trackers, and exclusive member deals on recommended products. 

Examine.com: An Unbiased Content Database on What’s Actually Healthy for You

There are constantly new fads, trending foods, and superfoods that promise to wash away your health problems in a few bites or a new regimen. Oftentimes, nutritionists and doctors are brought on board (and paid handsomely) to claim something is really good for you. So, if you want to sort through the crap (and really good marketing and professional recommendation and endorsements), what do you do?

Examine.com was created to target this gaping lack of trust: a team of self-identified science nerds put together evidence-based explanations to fitness and nutrition questions where professionals giving endorsements have lost your trust. Though it’s not a nonprofit, Examine.com is fundamentally a social impact business: the website makes unbiased, evidence-based information accessible in a time where that’s increasingly hard to find.

Something like this seems like it could also be tarnished by brand partnerships and donors behind big fitness or nutrition brands, but Examine.com keeps trust by keeping all those financial incentives at bay. They don’t do any sponsorships, brand deals, or ads.

The website was founded early 2011. A few years later, news stories detailed how it grew into attaining a seven-figure monthly revenue. People know that a lot of the health advice given and being advertised is tainted. They want clear answers with clear explanations, and Examine.com fills that gap, which is a gap of trust.

How they make money:

Examine.com can seem really confusing. The founder previously claimed they were raking in a seven-figure monthly revenue, but the website doesn’t work with brands for ads or sponsorships. Instead, all their revenue is generated from additional research syntheses and memberships sold to both health professionals and laypeople. In other words, the work done at Examine.com is trusted so much that health professionals pay for more personalized help which then funds the entire project.

These four examples show how selling trust can drive both revenue and impact. Based on the examples, the TaaS model works well when: 

  • The trust being sold targets a genuine gap in trust 
  • The public has incomplete data or access to information 
  • The narrative way trust is sold feels honest and benefits the consumer
  • There’s consistency over time 
  • The current market lacks a trusted voice/authority (in the case of consumer products)
  • The TaaS model can be adopted by other certified groups/individuals
  • The model includes a visible certification that gives added consumer brand value

These examples also show sustainability and personal health and wellness are huge opportunity areas for trust as a service.

As access and availability of information expands, so too do opportunities for trust as a service models. It’s not a buzzword just yet, but trust as a service model offers today’s social impact businesses and nonprofits a significant opportunity.