This may seem self-evident, but a research study reveals that consumers think of non-profits as "warm, generous and caring organizations, but lacking the competence to produce high-quality goods or services and run financially sound businesses" while stereotyping for-profit companies as "more competent from a balance sheet perspective, but are not necessarily socially aware."
This has significant implications for non-profits who are looking to increase donations. It's tough to expect people to open their pockets to you if you're seen as financially incompetent. It's the equivalent of the image problem homeless people must overcome when asking for change; some people think they'll spend the money frivolously, for example on alcohol.
How do non-profits and for-profits combat the problems with their respective stereotypes? More for-profit companies seem to have succeeded in this effort: companies that make green products or contribute revenue consistently to green causes are obvious examples.
One issue for non-profits may be that individuals who volunteer for non-profits often experience the chaotic processes that result when a group of people who've never worked before are thrown together to organize an impromptu charity event. My experience is that the successful operation of such events often depends on the leadership of one or two charismatic people rather than the process or institution itself, and others who feel the same will be biased to suspect that most events run by that charity are not as fortunate.
I suspect one reason DonorsChoose.org has been so successful is that it feels like your money is just being routed directly to the end recipient, with DonorsChoose being just a simple lightweight software marketplace in the middle. You don't imagine a somewhat chaotic and overwhelmed group of human volunteers sitting in the middle writing checks and licking stamps to mail your payments, so it feels efficient.
[The other advantage of DonorsChoose.org is the direct connection created between you and the recipient(s). I received a personal thank-you note from the last group I donated money to. This isn't a new idea for non-profits, but with the Internet it should be simpler and lower cost to facilitate. This is, unfortunately, an area that huge charities like The Red Cross of The American Cancer Society may continue to struggle with considering they don't always know where your money is going to go, towards what research, etc. But technology makes it possible to trace your donation if that's the goal they set for themselves. Knowing exactly where your money goes would be a huge upgrade of the donation experience.]
Another option, of course, is to not rely on donations for your funds but to instead launch an immensely successful company and make a fortune that way, then spend the rest of your life distributing that fortune to causes that move you. Not recommended for most.
A related point here is the value of brand. Because it's so hard to directly measure the value of brand, most companies discount it heavily. It's easy to focus on those parts of your brand that you have functional areas focused on anyhow, like the product, but when your brand may be impacted by external forces, or by something that isn't directly the result of one group or person's work inside the company, it's easy to let it slip by unaddressed.
I have every person on my team answer user e-mails because it's the one way I know of to ground them in real conversation with our end users who we're focused on serving. Brand exists somewhere in between our work and our users reception of that work. The tricky part is finding the right moments to shift between a creator's conviction and sympathy.