UK charity chief executives 'among least trusted globally'

Public: trust low in charity chiefs
Public: trust low in charity chiefs

Charity chief executives in the UK have one of the lowest trust scores among the public in the whole world, a new survey has revealed.

The research, unveiled at a seminar called Can Charities Win Back Public Trust?, hosted by the think tank New Philanthropy Capital in London today, showed that out of 22 countries, charity chief executives in the UK had the fourth-lowest trust scores among people in their respective countries. 

Almost half (49 per cent) of the 1,000 people in the UK surveyed in March by the company Ipsos Mori gave a negative response when asked if they would generally trust charity chief executives to tell the truth.

The least-trusted chief executives were those running organisations in South Korea, Japan and Spain, with negative responses from 58, 53 and 50 per cent of participants respectively.

The most trusted chief executives were those who ran charities based in France, Saudi Arabia and Argentina, which had ratings for people who said they did not trust charity chiefs of between 29 per cent and 30 per cent.

The US came six places higher than the UK in the rankings, with a score of 42 per cent.

Bobby Duffy, managing director of public affairs at Ipsos Mori, who presented the research, joked that there were two possible ways to view it.

"Just be grateful you’re not a chief executive in South Korea – I’m not sure what went wrong there," he quipped. "And if you are a chief exec, try to move to France.

"Maybe don’t move to Saudi Arabia. I’m not quite sure why they’re so high on the list, but they’re probably not a choice for many chief executives in Britain."

Delegates also heard from Ian Dunt, editor of the website, and Becky Slack, managing director of Slack Communications.

Dunt said he sensed a charity scandal was brewing that had the potential to destroy the charity sector – unlike, he said, the Kids Company situation, which he said could not become too large a media story because it required significant exposition to explain what had gone wrong.

"One does sense that there is a charity scandal that is so easily explained and so intuitive to a public gradually losing trust with charities that it could be put on the scale of phone hacking for journalists or expenses for MPs," he said.

"One of the skills of a political journalist is having your ear to the ground and having this sense of when trust is so stale that one story told correctly could destroy a sector. And it does feel, in a completely unscientific way, that you might be around that moment now."

He said the sector should deal with this by enhancing its credibility through improving the way it worked with journalists.

Slack, whose PR company worked with the telephone fundraising agency GoGen before it closed down last year citing a "reduction in business due to misleading media coverage", said the sector should have responded to last year’s media scrutiny of fundraising by issuing a collective media statement – which could have been convened by the Institute of Fundraising, she said – and holding a joint press conference.

She said that topics likely to draw media scrutiny about charities in future included the anniversary of the death of Olive Cooke, which is next month, and charities’ pension deficits.

She said the Panama papers exposé had made it increasingly likely that more financial accountability would be expected of charities and that some could come under criticism for using donations to pay off loans or make questionable investments.

Slack said she had heard from fundraising agencies that charities were still pressuring them to offer low prices for their services, which gave her the impression that nothing in the dynamic between charities and agencies had changed since last year.

- This story was corrected on 15 April 2016. It originally said Slack had heard from her fundraising agency clients that charities were still pressuring them to offer low prices for their services.

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