The Charity Commission has published ‘Regulating in the Public Interest: The Relationship Between Charity, Charities, and the General Public’, its latest research into the public’s perception of charities in the UK. The survey was carried out by Populus in February this year, before the impact of coronavirus was felt by the sector.
The introduction to the report by the Commission says; “For the Charity Commission increasing resilience also means bringing the public interest to the fore. We have set out to be more responsive and inclusive in the way we listen and respond to different parts of the public, including volunteers and charity supporters up and down the country.”
The headline finding is that public trust in charities has risen slightly since the research was last carried out in 2018. The 2018 survey was carried out amid, and reflected the impact of, the serious allegations facing international development charities such as Oxfam. The 2020 report shows charities now once again rank higher than an ordinary man/woman in the street and banks. The report says “All of this represents a welcome uptick. To continue rebuilding trust and confidence, though, charities need to do a better job of responding to public expectations.”
The four key expectations that the public has of charities are identified in the report. By far the most important of these in influencing public trust was the expectation that a high proportion of the money that a charity raises goes to those it is trying to help. The other key expectations which shape public opinion are: that charities ‘make an impact’; that how a charity fulfils its charitable purposes is as important as whether the purposes are fulfilled; and that charities have a collective responsibility to uphold the reputation of charity. Charity trustees were also surveyed for the report, and their views were largely aligned with the public on these points.
The report notes “It is clear…that there is a difference between the reasonable expectation that public have about what being a charity registered with the Commission ought to imply and what it actually means under current law.” A large majority of those surveyed said they would be more confident that a charity was delivering on their expectations if they knew it was registered with the Charity Commission. Of those who said they were familiar with the work of the Commission, twice as many thought that the Commission should try to ensure that charities fulfil their wider social responsibilities rather than just making sure they follow the letter of the law.
The report also found that the proportion of people who would describe charities as playing an ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ role in society has declined. There was an increase in the number of people who agreed that there were better ways to channel support for good causes and the research also suggests that some people have turned to giving support to local causes rather than larger established charities.