Opinion: Third Voice - Trust in charities' work is built on a firm foundation

Adrian Sargeant, Professor of non-profit marketing at Bristol Business School.

You shouldn't always believe what you read. When Third Sector reported recently from the Funding The Future conference that I'd said public trust and confidence in fundraising was at an all-time low and that the fundraising profession were generally hated by the public, this could not be further from the truth. While the reporting was technically accurate, I went on to say '...if you believe everything you read!' I then outlined how research consistently indicates the exact opposite. So for the record, there is not now and never has been a crisis of public trust in our sector.

Despite the considerable interest in the topic and numerous studies, particularly of late, the better of these are all consistent in their message. There is no problem, and in our efforts to build it further we are working from a firm foundation. We also know the public feel we are doing a good job and are satisfied with the quality of our fundraising practices. There are some issues around the percentage of a gift they believe will be applied to the cause, but there is irony here as their 'ideal' pattern of performance is close to what we already deliver. This is why I feel that, far from imposing greater regulation on us, what was needed was a program of public education.

So having set the record straight, what do we know about trust? Firstly, public trust, certainly in England and Wales, has been consistently strong since the topic was first researched. Secondly, it is necessary to draw a distinction between trust in the sector and trust in the organisation.

Both are separate constructs, and the factors that drive them are distinctive and incidentally known, despite what recent research headlines might suggest to the contrary.

Thirdly, trust in the sector appears to influence whether someone will engage in philanthropy, while trust in the organisation has an impact on someone's giving behaviour toward that organisation.

And finally, despite the interest in the subject, this latter influence is not great. In relation to the absolute amounts donated, the relationship is weak and non-linear. It also appears to have a relationship with the percentage of one's charitable 'pot' that will be donated to one organisation, in preference to another.

The work of the ImpACT coalition therefore has the potential to influence giving in many different ways.

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