Summary of the 2016 Public Trust and Confidence in Charities Report

The 2016 Public Trust and Confidence in Charities report, commissioned by the Charity Commission, was released last week (downloadable here) and makes for interesting reading.

The report, published every two years, focuses closely on the public’s trust in charities and comes at probably the most important time in its 10-year history. The report systematically explores the root causes of the (mis)trust of charities, comparisons between charities of different size, sector and mission; and awareness of the work that charities do.  It is, however, a little long. So we’ve done the hard miles for you and Given you a nice little summary of the headline findings below…


Public Trust and Confidence in Charities


  • Public trust is down from 2014 across the board
  • The highest levels of trust are found amongst the younger generations and those with the closest ties with charities (eg. service receivers or volunteers)
  • Just 40% of those polled trusted charities to make a positive impact to the causes they’re dedicated to

Why the decrease? The negative media coverage of so-called scandals in the charity sector has had a huge influence on people’s perceptions and levels of trust. A perceived lack of financial transparency, aggressive fundraising techniques and the expenses scandal are also key factors. Nobody has ever been a huge fan of a chugger or pest emails (who’d have guessed?) but it seems the public has reached saturation point.


The Perception of the Role of Charities in Society


  • The majority of the public still feel charities are working in the public interest although this has dropped by 10% from 2014, meaning that trust level in the sector has dropped behind that of both doctors and the police.


Do the public still feel charities have a place? It’s not all doom and gloom. Overall, the vast majority of people still believe that charities play a vital role in society (93%) although trust in the sector’s ability to deliver change cost-effectively, accountably and professionally is way down. To put things further into perspective, the charity sector is still trusted more than the private sector.


Why do people trust charities in 2016?


  • Familiarity: people are far more comfortable donating to big brands and local causes
  • Show me the money! People want to know where their donations are going and, usually, want that donation to be going to the end beneficiary.


Is it really that simple? There’s a clear preference for charities who satisfy the donor’s demand for accountability and impact, ensuring the money ends up supporting the cause not on what they perceive as ‘administration costs’ (queue the video). Donors also like to know that the money they give makes a difference. This seems  obvious, but the implication is that charities aren’t doing enough to let the public know where the money ends up and what the money goes to.


Which Charities inspire the most Trust?


  • Small charities inspire more confidence than the largest, as do charities that operate purely in the UK as opposed to NGOs
  • Charities that hold a personal connection, whether through geographical location or that have supplied a service to a relation or friend, are more trusted
  • The more familiar a donor is with the charity or the person asking for the gift, the more a donor gives


What are the specifics? When talking in generalities, there are clear stats to show that small charities who work locally inspire far more trust and confidence (a full 30% higher than large organisations).  Despite the stats, when asked to name a specific charity, it’s the largest and most well-known charities are named first. When asked why, transparency, size and recognition come out top. Those the public trust the least are international aid and animal welfare charities. Reasons given include that potential donors don’t feel that funds go to right place, donors do not see enough impact for ‘huge sums’ they receive, and the high pay of staff.


How much interaction does the public have with charities?


  • There is a massive underestimation by the public on how much involvement they, or those close to them, have with charities
  • The more conscious interactions a member of the public has with the charity sector, the greater confidence and trust they have


What have charities ever done for us?! Unprompted, the interviewees overwhelmingly said they, or friends or family members, hadn’t ever received support or help from a charity (79%). However, asked specifically whether they’ve ever visited a National Trust site, an art gallery, a youth club, volunteered, went to university and so on, that percentage plummeted to less than 10%. This goes to show there’s a deep-seated lack of awareness of how many charities regularly touch people’s lives and an underappreciation of the vital role the charity sector plays.



What can we learn here?

Trust and confidence is down, but there are positives that can be taken and actions that the sector can take to begin to remedy this. Simple strategies of keeping donors aware of where their donations go, who they’re helping and any small or large successes that have come about from their donations could have a huge impact on trust levels and show the charity is delivering on its mission. With merge email tools and the reporting ability of any half-decent fundraising system there really shouldn’t be an excuse for not doing this.

Ken Burnett’s fantastic blog on Doing the Right Thing by Donors argues brilliantly that the sector has to do more to treat prospective and current donors with more respect. The Public Trust and Confidence in Charities Report shows that the majority of the public would agree with Ken. Abandoning aggressive and by-the-numbers fundraising techniques is definitely an issue that will be addressed over the next couple of years, but charities can and must embrace this change sooner rather than later to grow trust and build towards success.

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