Public trust in charities plummets to lowest levels since 2005

Trust in charities has 'plateaued' to levels unseen since 2005, a new report from the Charity Commission has revealed.

Trust in Charities 2018, published by the Charity Commission today was part of a series of studies examining the factors the public associates with a trustworthy charity and revealed transparency is "not enough" in rebuilding trust.

The report found the average level of trust in charities has plummeted to 5.5 out of 10, which is lower than levels of 5.7 out of 10 found when the exercise was last conducted two years ago. This is also the lowest figure seen since the regulator first started recording levels of trust in the public back in 2005.

Between 2008 and 2014, the average level of trust in charities sat at 6.6 and 6.7 out of 10, before it fell down to 5.7 in 2016. The report attributed this fall to high-profile charity scandals such as Kids Company and Oxfam.

This year's research was formed in part by results from a survey conducted by Populus, which questioned more than 2,000 adults from across the UK about their trust in charities just two weeks after the Oxfam scandal broke in February this year.

Further details of the report showed charities being true to their values and the ability to demonstrate efficiency and impact join transparency among the most important ingredients required for the public to regain trust in charities.

It further identified the key drivers of trust in charities as transparency surrounding spending, efficiency in their use of resources, whether they are well-governed and well-managed and whether they're able to demonstrate making a positive difference.

The Commission said these findings highlight that ethos and values in charities matter most to the public and that rebuilding trust depends on behaviour change, not just better communication.

Charity Commission chair, Baroness Stowell welcomed the findings, urging charities to respond to them: “This research shows that the public no longer give charities as institutions the benefit of the doubt in providing that value.

"What the public expect is not unreasonable: they want charities to be guided by their ethos and purpose in everything they do, and they want charities to use their money efficiently and responsibly.

"The public have seen evidence of charities failing to demonstrate these behaviours. So it is not surprising that trust has not recovered, and that the public are calling for greater transparency. This is proxy for a more profound issue: the public want evidence that charities are what they say they are."

However, Stowell added that the research "also contains good news for charities and those who care about trust in charities."

"It shows that the answer is not to impose more rules and procedures or to tick more boxes, it is about attitude, ethos and culture. If we together respond to these findings and ensure everything charities do is driven by their purpose we can reverse the decline in trust," she said.

"And more important than that: charities will improve as organisations, and as a result make a bigger impact on the lives of their beneficiaries, and in their communities and for society as a whole," she added.

“We are currently reviewing the Commission’s strategy, and these findings are significant in informing our approach. We have a common interest and purpose here, and as chair of the Charity Commission, I want to work in constructive partnership with charities to help us together respond to the public’s legitimate expectations and strengthen the vital role of charities into the future.”

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