The safeguarding scandal has not had a big impact on trust in charities overall because many people did not trust overseas development charities to start with, according to Joe Saxton, co-founder of the research consultancy nfpSynergy.
Speaking at a Chartered Institute of Marketing event exploring non-profit PR strategy over the next five years, Saxton also revealed his organisation’s latest figures showed trust in charities overall had remained stable this year.
NfpSynergy’s survey of 1,000 adults in September found 54 per cent of respondents trusted charities "a great deal" or "quite a lot" – the same percentage who said they trusted charities for the last survey in February.
The February survey was conducted a fortnight after the news stories about sexual exploitation by Oxfam workers in Haiti, which triggered the safeguarding scandal, first appeared – but although the responses represented a fall from 60 per cent saying they trusted charities "a great deal" or "quite a lot" in November 2017, they were level with the response of 55 per cent in August 2017.
Saxton told the PR professionals at the event that trust seemed to have stabilised.
"We haven’t yet seen a big impact of the overseas development scandals because people by and large don’t trust overseas development agencies anyway, and the fact they’re involved in this is kind of par for the course, as far as they’re concerned," he said.
But, he said, although trust for charities in general had not been hugely affected, support for the development charities themselves had declined. An nfpSynergy survey in 2010 found that 16 per cent of people identified international development as their favourite cause, while a more recent survey had found that was down to 7 per cent, he said.
He also said that there was a difference in the level of trust felt by people who already supported charities, and those who said they did not.
In October 2015, following the fundraising scandal, trust among non-supporters was at 33 per cent, a figure which had only risen by two percentage points to 35 per cent by September this year. Meanwhile trust from supporters had gone up from 55 per cent to 66 per cent over the same period, he said.
"I think that’s the good news – do we really want everyone to trust charities?" Saxton said.
"Or do we want the people who will give and are the potential customers of charities to trust them? I would argue we want people who want to do something with charities to trust us, and if you’re never going to shop from us, it’s not that interesting what you think."
But, he warned, there was no evidence that the level of trust in charities affected levels of giving, volunteering and campaigning.
"Having lower trust in itself has not yet been proven as a precursor to doing less and conversely, as trust goes up there is very little evidence that we give more," he said.
"The danger is trust is the only metric we like and use and in practice that’s not very useful."