Members of the public would like charities to use evidence that shows they make a difference and do not mind hearing about past failures as part of this process, according to research by the think tank NPC.
The study, Show and Tell: charities, polling & evidence of doing good, published today, is based on a split sample poll of 1,009 people.
Half of the participants were asked whether they agreed that it was vital for charities to "collect good evidence to show they make a difference"; the other half were asked the same question, with the caveat "even if that means telling me that some of their past projects have failed".
Seventy-eight per cent of respondents in the first category said they agreed with the statement; 74 per cent of those who were asked the longer question agreed with it.
The survey, carried out by the polling company Ipsos Mori, also asked whether people thought charities were more likely to base their decisions on evidence or values.
Fifty-one per cent of respondents said they mostly thought that charities "decide what to do based on what they think is right"; 41 per cent said they "decide what to do based on evidence".
But most respondents (54 per cent) said they would be more likely to donate to charities that made evidence-based decisions; 30 per cent indicated a preference for donating to charities that act more on their values.
A total of 966 participants were asked to rank their confidence in charities on a scale between nought and 10, with nought to five considered low, six to seven considered medium and eight to 10 considered high.
Fifty-two per cent of those with high trust in charities said they mostly thought that charities based their work on evidence, compared with 32 per cent of those with low trust in charities.
Evidence-based decision-making was a more important factor among older people and the middle classes than among younger people or the working classes, the research discovered.
Sixty per cent of 55 to 75-year-olds and the same percentage of those in the AB social grade said they would be more likely donate to charities that made decisions based on evidence, compared with 47 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds and 49 per cent of those in the social grades C2DE.
Dan Corry, chief executive of NPC, told Third Sector: "We asked whether people wanted evidence as to whether charities were having an impact or not, and the answer came out pretty emphatically that yes they did. They were slightly suspicious that charities just do what they think is right and don’t pay enough attention to the evidence.
"It’s surprising that people say they are OK hearing about what charities have done that has not worked. We say to charities that if they try things out and it fails, they should tell people about it – not least so that other charities don’t do it. So it is quite important to know that the public are up for an adult relationship, with openness and honesty."
Corry said he had been in discussions with the children’s charity the NSPCC, which was going to be "loud and proud" about some of that programmes that had not worked. He said it was important for charities to "show you are an organisation which is determined to tackle one of the worst problems, and that you are always innovating to do this".
He said that although this message would not fit easily on a campaign poster, it should be readily available on charities’ websites. "We are all moved by values," he said. "But I hope this might make charities think about whether they are getting their marketing right."