Rebuilding public trust and confidence: how we’re doing

We can’t take the public’s trust for granted, writes Vicky Browning. Here’s how we’re working to protect it.

The latest set of figures from the Charity Commission’s polling of public trust and confidence in itself and the charity sector makes reasonably encouraging reading.

The level of public trust in charities as measured in this series is now back at its usual level of 6.3, having fallen last year to 5.7.

As Andrew Purkis put it in a blog earlier this week, “the bewildering ups and downs in poll results on this subject over the years have often had more to do with the dodgy thermometer than the health of the patient”.

Even so, I strongly believe that as a sector we cannot afford to be complacent. Trust (by which I mean the public’s belief in the integrity of our sector) and confidence (their belief in our competence and ability to deliver our promises) are both volatile and, as they say in the ads for financial products, may go down as well as up.

When Lord Grade, chair of the Fundraising Regulator, made his less than helpful comments earlier this month about the new Fundraising Preference Service, I went into bat for the sector across the media. Over two days I did 10 local BBC radio interviews, an appearance on a Nicky Campbell Radio5Live phone in and a stint on Good Morning Britain (having first checked, I confess, that it wasn’t going to be Piers Morgan on the sofa – there are some things even I won’t do for the charity sector).

But alongside a robust reactive response, ACEVO is continuing to work with a number of organisations and individuals across the sector on a proactive work programme responding to public trust and confidence issues. Our partners include NCVO, Institute of Fundraising, CharityComms, the Small Charities Coalition and lots of interested individuals.

The previous Charity Commission survey, published in June 2016, identified five key areas that statistics show most drive the public’s trust in charities.

Here are those five areas, how the sector is responding to them, and how you can help:

1. Ensuring that a reasonable proportion of donations make it to the end cause

We still need to encourage greater transparency within the sector. ACEVO is initiating a conversation about what transparency looks like in practice. This will build on previous work undertaken by NCVO, and will look to make recommendations on how the sector can apply principles of transparency more coherently and go beyond simply publishing more financial information. If any ACEVO member would like to be involved in that conversation, please let me know via email.

2. Being well managed

  • The revised version of the Code of Good Governance has just been published and is evidence of the sector’s commitment to strengthening its governance. Do read it and share it with your board.
  • The NCVO-led Governance Round Table group is working with the Charity Commission, Cass, Cranfield Trust and others to improve the skills and diversity of trustees. There will be more information on this in the autumn.

3. Ensuring that fundraisers are honest and ethical

  • The new Fundraising Regulator has been established to strengthen fundraising standards. It has now launched the Fundraising Preference Service.
  • The work of the Commission on Donor Experience is being taken forward by the Institute of Fundraising with the support of other infrastructure bodies, including ACEVO and NCVO.

4. Making independent decisions to further the cause they work for

Robust work defusing the anti-advocacy clause and continued pressure on the government to reform the Lobbying Act should strengthen charities’ resolve and ability to speak out on issues that affect their beneficiaries. We’re also encouraging campaigners to uphold the highest standards of neutrality, independence, transparency and accountability.

5. Making a positive difference to the cause they are working for

  • Alongside encouraging charities to communicate their individual impact, we need to demonstrate the collective impact of the work of the charity and voluntary sector. We started this with the February 2017 CharityToday report produced by ACEVO, CharityComms, IoF and CAF. We’re currently talking to the BBC to see if we can do something similar later in the year.
  • NCVO is also working on developing more robust but media friendly data to demonstrate the sector’s collective impact and therefore the effect of the public’s donations.

Other ongoing cross-sector work includes:

  • The expansion of NCVO’s Constructive Voices programme
  • The publication of a communications toolkit which brings together the positive narrative about charities previously created with robust, tested messages that resonate with the public in response to difficult questions (on fundraising, executive pay, efficiency etc). This is coming soon so do feed back any thoughts on it
  • Ongoing promotion of the How charities work website. Link to this site if you’re asked questions by your supporters on how today’s charities operate
  • Promotion of NCVO and CFG reporting guides aimed at informing journalists looking to develop their knowledge about the sector
  • The cross sector initiative engaging infrastructure bodies with the recommendations from the House of Lords’ Select Committee report on how the charity sector can be strengthened
  • NCVO’s work to demonstrate that charities are taking the issue of fair pay seriously and proactively supporting organisations to benchmark and publish their remuneration policies.

The public’s trust is one of the major factors that underpin the donations of time and money by millions of people every year. As both a sector and individual organisations, our relationship with the public is by far the most important that we have. It enables us to help more people, and to deliver our vision of better, stronger society.

At ACEVO, we’re committed to working with our partners across the sector to protect this precious asset.

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