Public trust and confidence in UK charities is now at its lowest recorded level since 2005, according to the Charity Commission.
Trust in charities has fallen from 6.7 out of 10 in 2014 to 5.7 this year, according to a report produced by Populus for the Charity Commission, based on surveys of a representative sample of over 1,000 people and discussions with four focus groups.
The main reasons given for the decline in trust were the media coverage about charities generally (33%), as well as more specific coverage about how charities spend their donations (32%). Other reasons given were a lack of trust (21%), the use of pressurising techniques (18%) and too much money being spent on advertising or wages (15%).
The report reveals that trust is typically 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%), and make independent decisions to further the cause they work for (10%).
Many also highlighted issues with fundraising techniques, with 74% saying that some fundraising methods make them feel uncomfortable. This has been on the increase since 2010 (60%), reaching 66% in 2014. The public also agreed that high-pressure fundraising techniques such as phone calls and street fundraising made them feel uncomfortable which, in turn, made them feel less inclined to give money.
Charity accountability and management were also cited as issues. 67% of those questioned thought that charities spend too much of their funds on salaries and administration, up from 58% in 2014. Management accounted for 12% of the drivers of trust and confidence. A perceived lack of progress on many of the causes charities fight for, and lack of feedback from charities explaining on what they have done with donations also make people less likely to donate.
The report also showed that although most be people agreed that charities are regulated either fairly or very effectively, trust and confidence in the Charity Commission has fallen from 6 to 5.5.
Sarah Atkinson, director of policy & communications, said:
“A fall in trust is not unexpected after a very difficult year for charities. The public wants to see charities explain more and account better for how they manage and spend their money. 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.”
In response to the findings, NCVO chief executive Sir Stuart Etherington commented:
“Charities have listened to public concerns and have taken concerted action to ensure that members of the public can have complete confidence in what they do. This year, charities have established a tough new fundraising regulator. A new fundraising preference service means people who have found themselves on a large number of mailing or call lists and feel unable to get off them, or who have relatives in this position, will have a way to opt out. And charities are now working towards ensuring that they always have clear consent before they contact anyone.
“Charities are also working to strengthen their governance, including reviewing the sector’s Code of Good Governance practice. They are also working with their representative bodies to explore better ways to explain how they work to ensure the public can have confidence in them.”
Peter Lewis, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising added:
“Individual charities understand how vital it is to maintain public support and have responded to concerns over the last year by improving fundraising practice. We have seen charities work to strengthen the connection between donors and the charities they support, and evidence shows that existing donors are choosing to continue supporting their charities. Putting the donors at the heart the way charities fundraise, building long-term relationships between the public and the cause, is a strong basis for rebuilding public trust in the future.”