Do people trust charities in 2023?

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Recently, the Charity Commission has published its research into ‘Charities and their relationship with the public,’ as conducted by Yonder. The focus of this study is to gauge how people perceive charitable organisations in England and Wales.

Why should charities care about their wider cultural perception?

At the heart of all charitable activities is public benefit. Your charity must benefit the general public, or a significant subsection, to achieve its purposes. Not all charities are reliant on donations, contrary to popular belief, but most need public support, either in terms of volunteering, funding, or spreading awareness. Therefore, how people interact and think of charities is intrinsically linked to what they can do.

With the effects of the Covid pandemic slowly dwindling and the cost-of-living crisis dragging on, charities are currently playing an integral part in finding solutions to some of society’s most pressing issues. Many people, particularly those who have specifically benefited from their work, recognise what vital impact charities have made. However, some doubts still persist with regard to effective management and proper use of resources.

What follows is a brief summary of the findings of this research…

What do people expect from charities?

Simply, people want charities to deliver on their promises of impact. This means they are fulfilling the purposes they set out to achieve. Without demonstrating these results, the public are less willing to donate, volunteer and campaign on behalf of the charity.

A key concern amongst the public is that the charitable resources are not sufficiently reaching the ultimate beneficiary. This assumes that money is unnecessarily expended on people and processes and not entirely being directed towards the charity’s true cause. Beyond this, they also want trustees to be cautious with their financial resources, ensuring they are protected and intelligently invested.

Charities must be well run and uphold high ethical standards. This concern is probably symptomatic of some of the charity related scandals that have previously taken place, particularly in 2015. Since then, charitable organisations have been working to restore their trust with the public, to demonstrate they are doing things not just adequately, but to an exemplary standard. In line with this, people want charities to treat their employees and volunteers well.

What charities do people trust?

It’s unsurprising that people are more likely to trust a charity that supports something they are passionate about. In this case, they are more willing to ‘buy-in’ to the organisation’s methods and support its activities actively.

Perhaps more interestingly, people are more likely to trust:

  • local charities
  • smaller charities
  • volunteer run charities

The crux of these factors is how simply people can link the actions of the charity with its results.

For local charities, it’s a fair assumption that people are more exposed to their activities. They potentially know people involved with the charity and may even have donated themselves. They can see the good these organisations are doing in the community.

Smaller charities are generally seen as having less complicated structures and therefore, spend less on people and processes internally along the way. Besides this, the irregularities and misconduct of larger charities tend to attract greater attention and have suffered some reputational damage in the public eye in recent years.

In accordance with the concerns around spending, volunteer run charities receive greater good will. Rightly or wrongly, they are seen to maximise the impact of their financial resources on their key beneficiaries by relying on unpaid staff.

In conclusion…

Most in England and Wales people want charities to succeed, but the remaining legacy of high profile cases involving the governance of large household name charities partially affects their trust in the sector. There is still a nagging doubt that some charities can’t manage their funds properly, or have a genuine impact.

With regard to the Charity Commission, the public generally sees its role as identifying wrongdoing and providing guidance. Whilst the shadow of mistrust remains, the study indicates that people believe the Commission should show tolerance when honest mistakes are made, particularly for smaller, volunteer run charities.

We would urge you to read the contents of this report in greater detail, which includes specific graphics and statistics that support the conclusions above.

How do you boost trust in your charity?

A running theme in the study is how good will is directly related to how charities manage their money. In the current climate, demonstrating prudent stewardship of funds is therefore more critical than ever. Avoid unnecessary risks. Clearly show to both your donors and the public at large how your money is being used. Prove that you are fulfilling your purpose.

Burton Sweet has a longstanding commitment to charities and civil society organisations, offering practical, professional and passionate support. To ensure your financial resources are being managed to best effect, you might consider our services including:  

  • Bookkeeping, training and setting up accounting systems
  • Bespoke accounts preparation
  • Public benefit or TAR reviews – helping you tell your story well
  • Guidance on reserves policies, risk management, and other key disclosures
  • External scrutiny services

We want to assist you, so you can deliver effectively for the communities you serve and show the good you do.

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