The public view: charities do good work, but we don't like how some behave

A recent study from the Charity Commission showed that public trust in charities has fallen to the lowest level since 2005. Over the summer the Third Sector team visited high streets across the country to ask people for their thoughts on charities

Richmond upon Thames

Dave Hardy, Chester (visiting Twickenham)

"My view of charities in the UK is extremely positive. I’m sorry there’s a need for them, but there is. My only fear is that sometimes governments pass responsibility for work they should be doing on to charities.

dave hardy

"I’d love to live in a country where we didn’t need charities because government picked up the baton.

"On the whole, I’m very positive about charities. But I was once holidaying in Italy and found out that animal charities were having a conference there. I’m very cynical about them. It was all to do with fundraising – nothing to do with the welfare of anything.

"The likes of Oxfam and overseas aid charities are getting a rough ride at the moment. It hasn’t affected my view of them. Certain newspapers can spin a story on anything and at a time when overseas aid is getting a bad press it’s very easy to write stories about a few individuals who are bringing it down.

"I’ve got friends who work actively for charities, but I tend to make feeble gestures. When America brought back the death penalty I joined Amnesty and have been a member ever since. We have a monthly payment to Save the Children, but I’m sorry it’s pathetic."

sue blackburn

Sue Blackburn, Richmond

"I think charities do a fantastic job, but it’s sad that there are so many of them and you can’t give to all of them. There are just so many worthy causes.

"They’ve got a lot of bad press recently about the chief executives earning so much money, which has really pissed people off. When they’re earning twice as much as the Prime Minister, it doesn’t seem right.

"I don’t like it when they phone up little old ladies and try to get them to double their little donations each month. I live in Richmond and it’s a bit much when you walk through the town and every day there’s someone shaking a can in your face. You can’t give to everything."

stephen pike-findley

Stephen Pike-Findley, Kingston upon Thames

"I admire the selflessness of UK charities. I was born in this country but my mum comes from Ghana, and there’s not as many charities there that help people across the board, so I admire UK charities’ good heart and their willingness to help others.

"I’m always sceptical because it never seems like the charity or the people they are trying to help get 100 per cent of the money. I understand charities need to pay rent, wages, bills, but I’m always a bit sceptical.

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"I heard about the Oxfam Haiti scandal. There are probably lots of stories like that, but they’re hidden. When anyone powerful goes into a third world country to help them someone’s always going to take advantage, but it’s a shame that it was coming from a charity – the people who were meant to help."


hannah williams

Hannah Williams, Leeds

"I think charities are doing good work on the whole, but there’s always room for improvement, especially with things such as homelessness in Harrogate. The people who work on that are doing a great job, but improvements can always be made. I think that’s reflected around the country.

"I do volunteer, but not for a particular charity – I coach children in gymnastics.

"I admire charities for doing jobs that no one really asked them to do but which they take on out of a sense of duty to the community. I think one thing people do really well in this country is challenging government, and that’s one of the great things about charities. They should be doing this because that kind of change only happens from the bottom up, and that is usually down to charities.

"I think a lot of people are probably going to say this, but I don’t like getting stopped in the street by charity collectors. You almost feel like you have to stop when you might not have time and it seems quite rude to say ‘sorry, I don’t want to talk to you right now’. It sort of puts you on the spot really."

richard foster

Richard Foster, Harrogate

"I support a few charities that I think do good work. If you believe what the newspapers say there are some that aren’t doing such good work. I’m a big fan of Yorkshire Air Ambulance: I have a friend who has been rescued twice by it, so we do a couple of things for them. Help for Heroes has been one for people like myself as well. There are some I have no association with and probably never would because of their morals and ethics – but, yes, charities do good work.

"Yorkshire Air Ambulance is huge for us: it provides such a great service to the county. I’ve donated every month for at least the past three and a half years to Help for Heroes. My family is massively service-oriented. My dad and both his brothers were servicemen, and my grandad too. It runs in the family. I admire the hard work. I’ve met the chief fundraiser for air ambulance and that guy never stops.

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"As for the fundraisers on the streets, they get paid a premium and it takes something like 18 months to two years for a charity to actually start making money from a direct-debit subscription.

"The stuff in Haiti had a massive amount of negative press, but I suppose there’s corruption in every sector."


Susan Evans, Leeds

"I contribute to quite a few charities. I think you have to be very choosy about what you give to. You have to think about what matters to you and what your commitments are. I am involved in community activity as a volunteer, so I suppose that is the charitable sector as well. I guess some organisations aren’t really charities, but community organisations – I see them as part of the charitable sector.

"I don’t think the Oxfam sexual abuse scandal has helped at all. It’s time they got their act together and made it really clear that they’re not there to exploit people but to help them.

"I don’t know what knock-on effect that’s had on the big organisations, and I don’t know if they’re doing anything about it. They should be doing something because it’s totally unacceptable. It’s probably not had a knock-on effect on local charities – at least, I don’t think so. That’s not something I’ve come across in my community work. But people are just disgusted."

leeds city centreLeeds city centre

Norma Fir, Leeds

"When my husband died, I gave a collection to a charity quite happily. But I keep getting letters asking if I would give more, and it annoys me really. I might have done it willingly, but I don’t give because, once I do this, they are going to do it all the time. I’ve had a couple and haven’t replied to them. I feel mean really, but I think if I was doing it of my own volition it would be different.

"Since I developed a health problem, I’ve happily done the raffle for a charity, but they always keep pushing you. I know it’s difficult, but I’d rather give of my own volition. If I feel I want to, I want to. And it does make you feel bad, because some of the cases are really very deserving. I think most people in our area support St Gemma’s Hospice.

"On high salaries, are they employing these people because they think they are getting the best people to do it? They say it’s the market and they have to pay that sort of money to get them. I think my fiver isn’t going to go very far towards the cause. I think it’s sad

Margaret Savage, Leeds

"I’m fed up really because there’s so many letters. You’ve got only so much money to spread around and you can’t spread it any further. I’ve got about six or seven charities that I keep donating to, but I can only spend so much. And it’s on the television all the time as well – not local ones, but national ones." when you read these things."

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Winscombe, North Somerset

john gale

John Gale, Winscombe

"I think in general the charity sector does good work. I give regularly to Guide Dogs and a couple of other charities. Charities do get a bit of a bad press. The Haiti one caught my attention.

"The one thing I do admire about charities is the volunteering side of it. Our local charity shops are the RSPCA and the Weston Hospicecare shops. The volunteers that help out there impress me.

"My experience is that you get a bit bombarded by an awful lot of mailshots. I give to the Guide Dogs and support a lot of things like raffles. Charities seem to do an awful lot of stuff to generate money and it’s costing them money, but I don’t know enough about it."

David Cuthbert, Winscombe

"People giving up their lives to help other people is something to be admired. But I’m not very keen on the people who stop in the street with a bucket and all that stuff. I suppose it has its place, but I just don’t like it.

"I use the charity shops quite a lot. I’m a bit of a book nerd, so I find them good.

"There’s been this stuff in the news about sexual abuse in third world countries, which is something you don’t want to hear and no doubt has affected the reputation of those charities. Obviously they’ve got to get their act together and stop that.

"In a way, some of these charities are so enormous, which is possibly part of the problem. If an organisation is so big you’re sometimes bound to have people in it who are not necessarily of the best calibre. Percentage wise it’s going to happen isn’t it? But they need to make sure these people are looked at closely or just don’t give them a job."

nathan snape

Nathan Snape, Winscombe

"I have reservations about charities. Ever since I can remember I was always more inclined to give money directly – to homeless people, say, against most people’s advice. I’d rather someone used it for their own purposes, and at least I know where it’s going, good or bad. I don’t feel like I need to be making someone else rich.

"Yes, of course, on a very basic level charities and fundraising are good, but you hear so many stories. I read about the charity cards they sell you on flights, where it offers the chance of winning a €1m and it turns out you’ve only got a very, very slim chance of winning and very little of the money goes to charity. That grinds my gears.

"You hear so much bad press when the idea of charity is to do good, wholesome things."

sue griffin, helen

Sue Griffin and her dog Digger, Winscombe

"I’ve just been doing some charity work this afternoon with my dog in the library. She’s a reading dog, so she encourages the children to go in. I think there’s a place for charity shops, where people can donate things they no longer want and know that it will be used again and generate some income.

"There are always areas to improve. When something goes wrong, people are always willing to point the finger, but don’t stop and think of the good things that have come from charities. But we always need to keep an eye out to improve things along the way.

"The only other concern I have is that it’s not always clear where the money goes and what it does. It would be good to see that, but it’s not that easy to do. And everything costs money. And I like to choose who to give to rather than be pestered into it."

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Helen, Winscombe (above, on right)

"I used to volunteer for a carers charity as a carers mentor, so I’d give my time rather than money. I did that for a while, but at the moment I have to look after my mum because she needs a bit of care. I prefer to give my time rather than stuff.

"Charities are getting a lot right at the moment, but the Oxfam situation is a little bit worrying. And it’s not just Oxfam – I’m sure it’s the tip of the iceberg. It wouldn’t stop me donating to Oxfam, but I think it does need to sort its safeguarding out. I’m a teacher and we have to get our safeguarding right.

"Administration for charities seems to cost a lot: sometimes its 30 per cent, sometimes its 80 per cent and they don’t really say, do they?

"I think all charities should say ‘from your pound, so much is going directly to the people on the front line’.

"I prefer to donate to a big national charity and a local one every year. Sometimes I swap them around. I prefer to give locally in a way, but I do give to the national charities as well. But what I don’t like is when you come out of a shop and are asked to sign up for something. I’d rather give money once than be signed up to something."


julie summers

Julie Summers, Walsall

"We don’t have dealings with charities because we don’t have bank accounts. But if we did have them, I would give to charity. Some charities are a bit far-fetched because there’s people in need in this country. Our hospitals need help and people who are disabled need help.

"I have arthritis from the neck down and I suffer from epilepsy. My husband has a back problem and osteoporosis. We don’t get any help from charities. We’ve tried to seek help from food banks, but if you use one three times you can’t use it again, which is a bit silly. We can’t get to local groups because we can’t afford local buses. We wish there was more support for us. Charities in this country need to think about their own people first before raising money for people abroad."

James, Pelsall

"I made a donation to Oxfam by text, then they phoned me up and were extremely aggressive. It was almost like speaking to a debt collector in terms of how they were trying to get me to give my direct debit details. I couldn’t believe it.

"You come to realise that most of these organisations are run just like businesses and only a small percentage of the money actually goes to where it should. Most of the money seems to go to overheads and staff costs. I just don’t think it’s very ethical.

"I don’t have many dealings with local charities, but I do take stuff into local charity shops. They tend to have volunteers working there, which is a bit better.

"I think it’s the larger charities where there are the real issues. We’ve had some of these scandals going on, which doesn’t surprise me after my dealings with them.

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"They should also give you a proper breakdown of where your money is going. When they see you on the street, you get no information about what percentage of your money is actually going to where it should be.

"To me, they’re tricking you really. How many people would donate if they knew the money wasn’t going to where it should be?"

shannon diana

Shannon Diana, Aldridge

"I get help from the Thomas Project, a charity in Aldridge. It helps me when I’m in need and feeling down. I suffer from social phobia disorder and I wouldn’t say boo to a goose, but now you can’t shut me up.

"In my experience, the big national organisations aren’t very good. They tend to point you in the wrong direction and they don’t have enough time for you.

"I’d like to set up my own mental health charity for people in crisis, because four years ago I had no one to turn to. It seemed that all the big charities couldn’t be bothered to help me or I was too complex a case.

"It’s also all telephone support and I’m not good with telephones."

blurred people

Rebuilding public trust - how the sector should respond

Comments like these will be familiar to anyone in the charity sector. Despite some positive notes, many will be concerned by the number of people who expressed a lack of trust in how charities spend money.

But Aidan Warner, senior external relations officer at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, says charities shouldn’t feel powerless when faced with these reactions. Building trust has to be a continuous campaign, he says.

"We can make communicating impact too complicated," he says. "You don’t need complex data. People don’t want to audit you; they just want confidence in you."

peter gilheany

Peter Gilheany (right), PR director at Forster Communications, says: "People often hold two conflicting views of charities simultaneously, one sceptical of charities in general, the other supportive of the specific charities they support."

To deal with this, he says, charities should focus on existing supporters, volunteers and clients, ensuring they understand and can advocate for the charity’s impact. "There is always a temptation to seek the thrill of the new and chase fresh audiences, but that should not be at the expense of those who have already shown commitment," he says.

Gilheany warns against the temptation to respond to fundraising concerns by shrugging or asking the public how else charities should raise the money needed.

"That isn’t for the public to answer," he says. "It is up to individual charities to balance the financial effectiveness of their fundraising approach with the impact it has on their reputation." Charities need to be more transparent about their impact and their fundraising, he says, and involve supporters in the debate. And they must ensure they manage relationships with third parties, such as fundraising agencies.

Felicity Spencer-Smith, external affairs officer at the Institute of Fundraising, says fundraising can rebuild trust, because fundraisers are often how people find a cause: "It’s an opportunity to say clearly how the money is spent and the impact it will have."

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