Public trust and confidence in charities has fallen to the lowest recorded level since monitoring began in 2005, according to a Charity Commission report, which reveals the media backlash over aggressive fundraising techniques has ripped through the sector.
The report, carried out by Populus, shows that trust in charities has fallen from 6.7 out of 10 in 2014 to 5.7 this year.
The decline 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.
Charity Commission director of policy & communications Sarah Atkinson admitted that the decline in trust was not unexpected after what she conceded was a very difficult year for the sector.
She added: “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.”
However, she claimed there were already positive signs, 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,” Atkinson said.
The five main reasons people gave for trusting charities less were:
– 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%)
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.
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.
Charity Commission chairman William Shawcross 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.”
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