The polling company YouGov has said that the public’s perception of the Royal British Legion has fallen to its lowest level in four years in the wake of media coverage of a dispute about the integration of its women’s section into the main charity.
Last month, several national newspapers carried prominent stories about a number of branches of the RBL women’s section dissolving themselves in protest at the charity’s plans to carry out the integration from October.
In Suffolk, 16 of the county’s 19 women’s branches have closed down. Fifteen of the 27 in Norfolk have done the same after the RBL chose to press ahead with the plan, which was agreed by the trustee board in December.
YouGov said this week that its CharityIndex, which polls between 80 and 100 people every day on the news they have heard about charities over the previous two weeks, showed that after the coverage the legion’s public reputation had fallen to its lowest level since YouGov started the index in June 2012.
It says that the legion’s "buzz score", which indicates the extent to which people have heard positive or negative stories about a charity, had fallen to a negative value for the first time, at -1.
This means that more people reported seeing negative coverage of the charity than positive coverage.
The charity’s buzz score usually reaches a high in November, in the wake of its poppy appeal, with the figure reaching 22 in 2015 and a high of 29 in 2014.
YouGov said other figures showed a longer-term decline in the charity’s reputation.
It said that among people who said they were likely to donate to a charity, the legion’s reputation score had fallen to 20, compared with 32 three months ago. This figure reached a high of 35 in November.
Sarah Murphy, director of the CharityIndex, said the data showed the pitfalls charities faced when trying to restructure their organisations.
"This data suggests that the charity needs to react in a more comprehensive way to ensure the controversy does not become a stain on its public perception in the long term," she said.
But she said the controversy was unlikely to have a negative effect on its poppy appeal.
"In its favour, the Royal British Legion has the benefit of having a long and strong history, and the coming months are when it traditionally comes to prominence," she said.
"In all likelihood, the controversy won’t be considered by poppy wearers in November."
A spokesman for the Royal British Legion said: "While short-term polls offer an interesting snapshot of public perception at any given time, we track perception of the charity through annual indices such as Third Sector’s Charity Brand Index, which has ranked the Royal British Legion in the top five UK charities since 2011, and last year gave the charity a joint-top score for trustworthiness."