David Burrows: It's our job to build the public's trust

Large charities attract scepticism, says the head of fundraising at TDA

I was surprised to read a headline the other day that said the MPs' expenses scandal had not caused a collapse in the percentage of the public who trusted politicians. Research by the Hansard Society showed the proportion who trusted politicians fell by one percentage point between 2004 and 2010.

But the sting in the tail was the fact that the proportion who distrusted politicians had risen from 70 per cent to 73 per cent. So distrust hasn't risen much - because it was already very high.

So we are sceptical of politicians, and we don't much like banks and bankers. Nor are charities immune to criticism. Controversial accusations that donations to Band Aid ended up in the wrong hands and questions about where London Marathon money goes have all contributed to a climate of scepticism recently.

The voluntary sector is still trusted more than the commercial sector, but the size of an organisation is clearly an issue. According to a recent nfpSynergy survey, the public are particularly sceptical about large charities. A report by the firm showed 51 per cent of respondents thought large charities were wasteful, and only 44 per cent thought they were trustworthy. Only 20 per cent thought large charities were friendly, and 35 per cent rated them as good at understanding the needs of people they help.

Fundraisers need to be at the forefront of defending the reputation of charities. Why? Because, according to an earlier piece of nfpSynergy research, standards in fundraising are the main criteria by which people judge trust in charities.

Good fundraising builds trust because it is about people giving to people. It is about showing that you can help change somebody's life forever - that your organisation has a human, friendly face and that you are shrewdly managing every penny. Good fundraising makes big charities seem like small ones.

There is also a bigger issue here. Charities exist because a substantial part of the public, despite being tired and cynical about many issues, still want good causes to believe in. If politicians aren't convincing the public to believe in them, let's show the public that they can believe in us.


FACT FILE - Trust in charity

The BBC reported earlier this year that rebel leaders in Ethiopia said money raised by charities including Band Aid had been spent on weapons. Bob Geldof said there was no evidence that the money had been used in this way.

A Channel 4 Dispatches programme this month said the organisers of the London Marathon gave only a quarter of the money raised to its parent charity last year. David Bedford, director of the marathon, said the programme displayed "a toxic mixture of opinions and half-truths masquerading as facts".

Research for the Fundraising Standards Board in February 2010 showed 56 per cent of the public said they would be more likely to give to a charity if they trusted it. Among 16 to 24-year-olds, 80 per cent said trust in either a particular charity or the sector as a whole would influence their giving.

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