Public doesn't understand charities, YouGov survey confirms

Acevo findings reveal widespread misconceptions about finance

The public's perception of charities remains significantly at odds with the reality, according to a YouGov poll published this week.

The poll of 2,065 people, conducted on behalf of the charity chief executives body Acevo, found that people had seriously inaccurate perceptions of the sector, particularly in relation to finance. Only 8 per cent knew that the voluntary sector has an annual income of more than £30bn, for example.

Respondents also significantly underestimated the proportion of income charities receive from trading and government sources.

The survey also found that 42 per cent of respondents thought the average chief executive's salary was more than £60,000, with 17 per cent putting it at more than £90,000. The correct figure, according to Acevo's 2008/09 pay survey, is £57,300.

People also overestimated the proportion of income charities spend on overheads, with 61 per cent putting the figure at more than 20 per cent and 16 per cent at more than 50 per cent. The correct figure is significantly lower, at 12.5 per cent.

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, said the perception gap could undermine what he described as the "special relationship" between charities and the public.

"The sector has been complicit in the widening of the gap by not being up front about how we have developed, for fear of reduced donations or criticism," he said.

"But it is much better to be on the front foot about these things. We have nothing to be ashamed of. If we don't start explaining the importance and value of the modern third sector, we risk a backlash."

The survey was prompted by Acevo's takeover of transparency body the Impact Coalition earlier this year.

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