Vicky Browning: Public disaffection with charities appears to be a global phenomenon

A trip to Zurich in Switzerland, where the regulatory system is more rigorous than here, gave me an insight into this problem, writes our columnist

I popped over to Zurich last week to share with a group of Swiss not-for-profits the work of the Understanding Charities Group in raising public understanding, trust and confidence in charities. The conference was organised by Zewo, a Swiss cross between the Charity Commission, the Fundraising Standards Board and the Institute of Fundraising. Think of it as the three-way love child of William Shawcross, Alistair McLean and Peter Lewis (or perhaps not).

Zewo is a kind of charity Ofsted that monitors and vets organisations and grants a seal of approval to those that meet its standards. It says charities with its seal offer "true and fair financial reporting, provide transparent information and have appropriate controls. They are honest and procure their funds in a fair manner." This means "donors can trust that donations will be used economically, effectively and for the designated purpose".

But despite this certification system – far more rigorous than anything we have in the UK – Zewo's recent surveys of the Swiss public don't paint a rosy picture. Eighty-nine per cent agree that charities are needed, 74 per cent agree the work of charities has a very positive impact and 72 per cent are donors; but only one in two believes that "donations will get to the right place". Forty-seven per cent think there are "many black sheep among charities", 55 per cent think charities spend too much on fundraising and 64 per cent think charities ask for donations too often.

With Switzerland, Ireland, Canada and the US all facing similar issues to the UK, it appears that maintaining the public's trust and confidence in charities is a global phenomenon.

Vicky Browning is director of CharityComms

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