One of the headlines from the latest CAF UK Giving is the downward trend in trust in charities. As a sector we worry that a decline in trust will make it more difficult to appeal to new supporters.
First, let’s unpick a key element of CAF’s findings. The reported decline is in response to a question about "most charities". It doesn’t necessarily mean that people are losing trust in the charities that they themselves support.
Other reports offer a different perspective. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer doesn’t map exactly to CAF charities, but it’s worth noting that its measure of trust in UK NGOs rose very slightly in 2018 to 47 per cent (CAF’s figure for 2018 is 48 per cent), after an increase of six percentage points in 2017. The trend in the CAF figures is a guide and a warning, but it is not definitive.
We understand from Adrian Sargeant’s analysis of supporter loyalty that trust contributes directly to the idea of "active commitment", but we should also remember that the measurable uplift for which trust is the most important factor is the value of the gift rather than the propensity to give. Trust is not the only contributor to the supporter relationship.
In fact, we know from recent experience with a large UK charity that a reduction in trust from existing supporters does not necessarily result in a change in the levels or value of their response to fundraising appeals. At the same time, we understand that trust is an absolute prerequisite for anyone considering making a gift in their will.
After all, in leaving a legacy, a supporter is deciding to put a significant amount of money in our charge, in the expectation that we will do something useful and important with it when they are no longer around to check.
What then must we do?
There are some simple mechanics, most of which we have learned to put in place in recent years: we must be transparent about the work we do with our supporters’ money, the impact we have and the difference we make, because it all contributes to a supporter’s experience of us doing what they expected.
The "hygiene factors" of managing personal data and preferences properly, of recognising and thanking supporters for their contributions, all form part of the picture. And as we learned to our cost in 2015 and thereafter, we simply must demonstrate a consistent set of ethics in all that we do; our fundraising, our events, our campaigning must be recognisably connected to the values we show in our programme delivery and policy development.
These are just the basics. There is also something much more powerful that we can do.
The research on trust in charities includes evidence that, in the absence of detailed knowledge, we trust an organisation based on the degree to which we see its values to be similar to our own. In this context we’re not talking about "brand values" or about Schwartz’s "basic human values"; this is about the specifics of an organisation’s goals, its opinion about social problems, its beliefs about how society should be developed and the role charities should play.
By making it easier for supporters or potential supporters to see and understand these values in theory and in action, we can actively build levels of trust, not in charity generally, but in our individual charities. "Shared values" drive trust, commitment, emotional (attitudinal) loyalty and are another fundamental pre-cursor to consideration of legacies.
When we are talking to supporters and prospects, we can actively build trust not only through authenticity and transparency, but also by making space to be clear about the values that underpin our work. In doing so, we will build stronger, more resilient and trusting connections.
Nick Pride is fundraising strategy director at the integrated creative agency WPNC