Public trust and confidence in charities has fallen to the lowest recorded level since monitoring began in 2005, according to a report produced by Populus for the Charity Commission, the regulator of charities in England and Wales. The findings show that trust in charities has fallen from 6.7 out of 10 in 2014 to 5.7 this year.
The report finds the fall in trust and confidence can be attributed to critical media coverage of charity practices, distrust about how charities spend donations, and a lack of knowledge among the public about where their donations go. Perceptions of aggressive fundraising tactics have also contributed to the decline in trust.
The research is based on surveys of a representative sample of over 1,000 people conducted earlier this year, and on discussions with four focus groups. The full methodology for the research is set out in the report.
William Shawcross, Chairman of the commission, said:
Charities play a vital role in society and this report shows that the public still overwhelmingly believe that. But public support cannot be taken for granted and these results show that action is needed to restore public confidence. These results are a call to action for everyone who values public trust in charities.
Sarah Atkinson, Director of Policy & Communications, said:
A fall in trust is not unexpected after a very difficult year for charities. But if charities know what matters to the public, they can regain their trust. This research tells us a lot about the drivers of public trust.
The public wants to see charities explain more and account better for how they manage and spend their money. They want to see honest and ethical fundraising, and they want to know that charities are making a positive difference to their causes. We can also see that when people know more about a charity their trust and confidence in charities generally increases.
There are positive signs in the sector already, with a new fundraising regulator, a new Charities Act, and with many charities responding positively to the challenge to address public concerns. But there is more work to do to win back trust.
As for the Charity Commission, we know that the actions of a few can affect the way all charities are viewed. Our role in tackling abuse and bad practice supports public confidence. We will be doing more to promote and improve the register of charities, to help people understand more about the work of individual charities and the sector as a whole. We can also do more to help the public understand our work.
The 5 main reasons people gave for trusting charities less:
- Media stories about a charity/charities generally (33%)
- Media coverage about how charities spend donations (32%)
- Don’t trust them/I don’t know where the money goes (21%)
- They use pressurising techniques, including in fundraising (18%)
- Too much money is spent on advertising/wages (15%)
The 5 drivers of public trust
63% of the public’s trust is based on five factors - whether charities:
- Make a positive difference to the cause they are working for (16%)
- Ensure that a reasonable proportion of donations make it to the end cause (13%)
- Are well managed (12%)
- Ensure that their fundraisers are honest and ethical (12%)
- Make independent decisions to further the cause they work for (10%)
Three key issues raised in the report are accountability, management and fundraising
Accountability and transparency
In the report 67% think that charities spend too much of their funds on salaries and administration, up from 58% in 2014. In the focus groups participants talked about a perceived lack of progress on many of the causes charities fight for, and a lack of feedback from charities explaining what they have done with donations. When the public feels less certain about where the money went, they say they are less likely to donate.
9% of the public told us that the most important factor in their trust and confidence in charities is effective management, and management accounts for 12% of the drivers of trust and confidence.
The report shows 74% of the public say some fundraising methods make them feel uncomfortable. This has been rising since 2010 (60%) to 66% in 2014. The public also agreed that high-pressure fundraising techniques like phone calls and street fundraising made them feel uncomfortable which, in turn, made them feel less inclined to give money.
The report also showed that although most be people agreed that charities are regulated either fairly or very effectively, trust and confidence in the commission fell from 6 to 5.5.
Notes to editors
- The Charity Commission is the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales. To find out more about our work, see our annual report.
- Search for charities on our online register.
- Populus interviewed 1,085 nationally representative adults in England and Wales by telephone between 26 January and 8 February 2016.
- Research published by Scottish charity regulator OSCR yesterday also told of a fall in trust, but less marked.