Polling by Ipsos Mori, which asked a representative sample of 1,008 adults to rate their trust and confidence in charities on a scale of 0 to 10, found that the sector's mean score was 6.6.
This figure was 6.3 when the survey was last carried out, in 2005. The commission described the increase as "small but significant".
More than two-thirds of respondents gave charities a trust rating of six or higher and 35 per cent gave a rating of eight or higher.
The score means charities rank above many other British institutions and professions, such as newspapers, government ministers, banks, companies and the average person in the street (see graph, top right). Only doctors and the police enjoy a higher level of trust.
Asked whether charities were trustworthy and acted in the public interest, 21 per cent agreed strongly, 55 per cent agreed, 11 per cent tended to disagree and 5 per cent strongly disagreed. The results of the commission's poll contrast with recent research by nfpSynergy, which found that the proportion of adults who said they trusted charities had fallen from 51 per cent in 2006 to 42 per cent in 2007 (Third Sector, 26 March).
The Charity Commission's research also asked respondents to rate charities in a number of ways. The highest score, 6.9, was for trusting charities to make a difference to the causes for which they work. On ensuring fundraisers were honest and ethical, charities scored 6.7, an increase from 6.5 in 2005. The sector was less trusted to be well-managed (6.3) and to ensure that a reasonable proportion of donations did actually reach the end cause (6).
Despite the strong trust ratings, 59 per cent of respondents said that they knew very little about how charities were managed. The same proportion felt that charities spent too much on salaries and administration, and exactly half thought that charities were using more dubious fundraising techniques (see graph, bottom left).
Respondents were also strongly in favour of charities being transparent: 96 per cent said it was important for them to publish information about how they spent donations. And 90 per cent said it was important for them to publish annual reports.
Eighty-five per cent said they trusted charities more if they had heard of them and 41 per cent said they trusted them more if they had well-known patrons (see graph, top left). But only 38 per cent said they trusted large charities more than small ones.
One reassuring sign is that the public seems to be getting more involved in charities' work. Nearly half - 47 per cent - said they had given goods to charity in the past year, up 10 percentage points from 2005. And 32 per cent had given time, well up from 23 per cent three years ago. As in 2005, 85 per cent had given money to charity.