The Charity Commission’s finding that public trust in charities had fallen to 5.5 out of 10, the lowest level since its biennial study started in 2005, came as little surprise.
The research was conducted at the height of the charity scandals towards the start of the year, so it was never likely to paint a rosy picture. Putting aside the criticism the regulator has faced over the timing of the study, there’s no escaping that public attitudes towards charities appear to be hardening.
Over the summer, the Third Sector team visited high streets across the country to gain further insight into what the public feels about charities. It was clear from the conversations we had that many people believe that charities play a fundamental role in society and understand that they’re often working in difficult circumstances with limited resources. Equally, there’s an appetite for change.
Perennial issues such as how much of donors’ money goes on senior executive pay and on overheads continue to frustrate. And, of course, many of those we spoke to were less than impressed by the actions of the large international aid organisations implicated in recent scandals.
Equally alarming was how people felt after their interactions with charities. Too often the public feels harassed to make donations, often by charities they have little knowledge of, or give ever-large amounts to the causes they support.
There’s no quick solution to improving levels of public trust, but it is clear charities need to be ever-mindful of how they behave. Creating some strong organisational values and sticking to them is one starting point. But more charities need to reflect on the issues the public frequently raise as concerns and ask themselves: "Do we do this ourselves? And do we really have to?" Simply accepting the status quo won’t improve public perceptions.