Trust in charities lowest for over a decade - study

Public trust and confidence in charities is at its lowest since monitoring began in 2005, according to the Charity Commission.

The latest study also found that although most people agreed charities are regulated either fairly or very effectively, trust and confidence in the Charity Commission fell from 6 out of 10 in 2014 to 5.5 this year.

A report by Populus for the Charity Commission found trust in charities has fallen to 5.7 out of 10 this year, from 6.7 in 2014.

Nearly two thirds of the almost 2,000 respondents said their trust and confidence in charities had stayed the same, 33 per cent said it had decreased, while just 6 per cent said it had increased.

Of those who reported decreased confidence in charities, 33 per cent highlighted media stories about a particular charity or charities as a factor. Media coverage about how charities spend donations was a factor for 32 per cent of respondents, and 21 per cent said they do not trust charities or know where money goes.

Pressurising techniques, including in fundraising, were a factor for 18 per cent of respondents, while 15 per cent said their confidence had been impacted by charities spending too much on advertising/wages.

The study indicated trust in charities was driven by five key factors. These were organisations ensuring a reasonable proportion of donations make it to the end cause, being well managed, and ensuring fundraisers are honest and ethical.

Respondents also wanted charities to make independent decisions to further the cause they work for, and make a positive difference to their cause.

The report showed 67 per cent of respondents thought charities spend too much of their funds on salaries and administration, up from 58 per cent in 2014. Nine per cent of respondents said the most important factor in their trust and confidence in charities is effective management, and management accounted for 12 per cent of the drivers of trust and confidence.

The survey followed several months of bad press and controversy for charities, surrounding the finance and management issues that arose during the collapse of Kids Company and the fundraising practices revealed by national media exposés.

Phone interviews were conducted with 1,085 adults between 26 January and 8 February 2016. In order to avoid the results being skewed by negative press coverage including stories on the Kids Company closure and Age UK’s commercial arrangements with E.ON, a second, shorter telephone survey of 914 adults was conducted between 11 and 13 March 2016.

Charity Commission chair William Shawcross said the survey results are a call to action for everyone who values public trust in charities.

“Charities play a vital role in society and this report shows that the public still overwhelmingly believe that. But public support cannot be taken for granted and these results show that action is needed to restore public confidence.”

The regulator’s director of policy and communications Sarah Atkinson said a fall in trust was not unexpected after a “very difficult” year for charities.

However, there are positive signs in the sector already with the Fundraising Regulator set to launch shortly, a new Charities Act, and many charities “responding positively to the challenge to address public concerns”.

“The public wants to see charities explain more and account better for how they manage and spend their money,” Atkinson said. “They want to see honest and ethical fundraising, and they want to know that charities are making a positive difference to their causes. We can also see that when people know more about a charity their trust and confidence in charities generally increases.”

Access the Charity Commission’s report here.

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