Rising above the ‘plateau’: key considerations for charities to build public trust

Public trust and confidence is critical to the success of the charity sector. So the Charity Commission’s latest research finding public trust has “plateaued” reinforces that more needs to be done to build the awareness of the societal contribution and impact of charities.  

This research indicates that the public still think charities have an important role in society, but evidence of the positive effect of their work needs to be shared in a fair, balanced and understandable manner. Since the introduction of our Charities Award five years ago, as part of our annual Building Public Trust Awards, we have championed the need for clear, open and honest reporting which is driven by a charity’s purpose. Our call for charities to be ‘bold and brave’ and to share “the realities they face while continuing to report on the positive outcomes achieved” is consistent with this latest research.

The Charity Commission also noted that it was the largest charities that came to the public’s mind when they were asked to think of the charity sector. It is therefore particularly important for these charities to place a greater emphasis on their reporting and wider communication with their stakeholders, as their behaviour will have implications for how the sector is seen as a whole.  

Another important finding from the research was that transparency about the “distribution of funds” and the “end impact that donations have” was critical to public trust. This resonates with the findings from our own ‘people’s panel’ of members of the general public, whose views were considered as part of our Charities Award for the first time in 2017. Our panel reported that a key factor in building trust  was around how they spend their money, particularly donations from the public, what this spending enabled the charity to do and what impact it had. This focus on impact also resonates with New Philanthropy Capital research we supported.

Charities are operating in challenging circumstances with a high degree of uncertainty. However, this research shows that "trust matters to donation behaviour” and charities should continue to let the public know what they need to deliver their good work and have an impact. It has never been more important for charities to tell an authentic story, encompassing their purpose, actions and impact and explaining how charitable funds have been effectively used in achieving this.     

Ian Oakley-Smith  | Charities Leader
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