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Initial analysis by the Charity Commission
The commission welcomes Ipsos MORI’s fifth research report into public trust and confidence in charities. The latest research builds on the findings from surveys conducted in 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2012 and adds to a dataset now spanning almost a decade.
It is encouraging to see that overall trust and confidence in charities remains high, at 6.7 out of ten. This level has not varied significantly in recent years and suggests that trust and confidence in charities is resilient. Such resilience is a testament to the day to day work of charities which continues to inspire strong support from the public.
Charities continue to hold a special place in people’s lives and there is public acknowledgement of the vital contribution that charities make. Four fifths of people feel that charities provide something unique to society and almost three quarters believe that charities are effective at bringing about social change. Agreement with both statements has increased slightly since 2012. Almost all people (96%) agree that charities play an essential, very important or fairly important role in society.
However, there is evidence of a minor downwards shift in attitudes in some areas.
There has been a slight decrease in the percentage of people who agree that ‘most charities are trustworthy and act in the public interest’ which has dropped from 75% in 2010, 74% in 2012 to 71% in 2014. This indicates that public trust in charities cannot be taken for granted, and that both the commission and the charity sector should not be complacent, despite the evidence we have that overall trust in charities is resilient.
Fewer people trust charities to work independently. 68% did so in 2010, 63% in 2012 and now 62% in 2014. The commission is concerned by this finding, but recognises that it is perhaps a reflection of the range of funding pressures that many charities currently face and we know that the issue is one which the charity sector is alert to. Nonetheless, charities must act exclusively in the best interests of their charity, and our role is to both respect and protect charities’ independence.
The proportion of people who would be more confident in a charity providing a public service than other types of service provider has declined from 25% in 2012 to 20% in 2014. However, this should be considered alongside the finding that 70% of the public say that the type of service provider makes no difference to them. Possibly the most noteworthy finding in terms of service provision is that 44% of the public say that charities are best at providing a caring approach to public service provision; this is far higher than the scores for the public or private sector (4% and 21%) and appears to reflect the high levels of trust and confidence that charities generate.
It is interesting that increasing numbers of people cite ‘ensuring a reasonable proportion of donations gets to the end cause’ as the most important aspect of trust and confidence in charities. This has grown from 43% in 2012 to almost half (49%) in 2014. On the other hand, fewer people now cite ‘making a positive difference to the cause they work for’ as the most important aspect of trust and confidence. This has decreased from 31% in 2012 to 25% in 2014. There is clearly an increasing appetite for charities to be even more effective and efficient in the ways in which they use and account for their funds to further their charitable purposes. These findings emphasise the importance of beneficiary focused expenditure and sound financial management.
In line with previous research, six out of ten people agree that ‘charities spend too much of their funds on salaries and administration’, although younger people are less likely to agree with this than older people. The public expects charities to use their resources efficiently and to be open and transparent about running costs. The issue of senior staff pay in particular is a topic which is much debated. The commission encourages charities to be as open as they can be about this issue, and these findings support the need for open and transparent information that is freely available and can be explained to the public.
The public’s appetite for accountability is undiminished: 94% of people agree that it is crucial for charities to demonstrate how they benefit the public and 90% agree that it is important that charities explain in a published annual report what they have achieved. Completing an annual return and submitting an annual report and accounts to the Charity Commission is a basic requirement in law for most charities. The on-line register of charities, which displays charities’ accounts and trustees’ annual reports, plays a vital role in meeting public demand for accountability.
As in 2012, two thirds of people agree that some fundraising methods used by charities make them uncomfortable. Charities tread a fine line between raising as much funding as possible for their cause, on the one hand, and preserving public goodwill on the other. We strongly encourage charities that raise funds from the public to read our guidance on Charities and fundraising (CC20), and to join the Fundraising Standards Board. We will soon be displaying charities’ membership of the FRSB on the charity register.
The commission is pleased that the number of people who claim that they, or their friends or family, have benefitted from a charity has grown hugely over the past nine years, from 9% in 2005 to 40% in 2014. This suggests that people are more aware of the wide-ranging roles that charities play. Increasing engagement of the public as the beneficiaries of charities should bode well for public trust and confidence in the long term, given that familiarity with charities tends to lead to higher trust, although conversely, the proportion of people claiming to volunteer has fallen from 26% in 2012 to 22% in 2014.
Alongside the findings about public trust and confidence in charities, the research provides a unique insight into public attitudes to charity regulation and the Charity Commission.
Awareness of the Charity Commission has remained steady at just over half of the population (55%). The vast majority of the public (98%) feels that the role the Commission plays is important, and appreciate the importance of the Charity Commission’s role even if they are not directly familiar with the commission itself.
Responses to a new question about the overall effectiveness of charity regulation are encouraging. Over two thirds of respondents (68%) said charities are regulated either ‘fairly or very effectively’ and only 20% said either ‘not very or not at all’ effectively. The commission is pleased that almost seven in ten people believe regulation is effective whilst acknowledging there is work to do to further boost confidence.
Agreement with the statement ‘charities are regulated and controlled to ensure that they are working for the public benefit’ has declined in recent years from 68% in 2010, 64% in 2012 and now 60% in 2014. It is possible that this is because the issue of public benefit now has less public prominence so this lack of familiarity with the issue may lead fewer people to agree with the statement. Nonetheless, we note this finding and hope that our focused approach to promoting compliance by charity trustees will make a positive difference to public understanding of the regulatory work we carry out.
For the first time, those that were aware of the commission were asked to rate their trust in it on a scale from 0 to 10, in much the same way that they had been asked to rate their trust in charities. The average score was 6.1. This is not as high as the 6.7 score achieved by charities themselves but this is probably unsurprising. The score of 6.1 gives the commission a solid base to work from and we will continue to monitor trust in the commission in coming years.
The research findings from the discussion groups are illuminating. People clearly expect firm regulation to be in place and sanctions for charities that do not comply with legal requirements. Whilst public expectations of regulation may sometimes be unrealistic given the current limitations of our budget, nevertheless they lend weight to the commission’s more robust approach to regulation.
The Charity Commission encourages all charities to read and reflect on the findings from Ipsos MORI’s report. They will no doubt be delighted that trust in charities rightly remains high. It is the Commission’s view that the overwhelming majority of charity trustees are making a vital contribution to society and deserve the public’s support. To sustain that trust they must continue to demonstrate to donors that their money is being well spent.