UK Charity Commission publishes 'public trust in charities' research for 2022
27 July 2023 | Applicable law: England and Wales | 4 minute read
On 14 July 2023, the Charity Commission published the results of research undertaken by Yonder into levels of public trust in charities.
In general, the survey results indicate that the public broadly recognises the work of charities to assist against the pandemic and cost of living crisis. However, the Commission reports that such work, despite stability in public perception of charities, has not fundamentally changed the public's overall trust and confidence in charities or how relevant charities are believed to be. The report notes a "stubbornly persistent scepticism" from the public in terms of how charities use their money and how they behave: the Commission suggests that "proactively demonstrating where donors’ money goes and how that money leads to impact" is of central importance to reducing this scepticism and improving public trust.
As in previous years, the public perception of trust in charities is based on four expectations:
- that a high proportion of charities’ money is used for charitable activity;
- that charities are making the impact they promise to make;
- that the way charities go about making that impact is consistent with the spirit of ‘charity’; and
- that all charities uphold the reputation of charity in adhering to these expectations.
Notably, the survey results indicate that the Charitable sector is the second-most trusted sector, after doctors. A majority (56%) of the general public describe charities as ‘essential’ or ‘very important’, although this figure is down from 76% in 2012.
Varying perceptions of charities from different sections of the public
The survey highlights the distinction between the responses of the 'less secure, less diverse' interviewees and 'more secure, more diverse' interviewees. For example, when asked whether they viewed charities as ‘essential’ or ‘very important’, 73% of the 'more secure, more diverse' category agreed that charities were essential or very important; whilst this number fell to 40% in the 'less secure, less diverse' category.
The 'less secure, less diverse' category, the survey report indicated, tended to credit the good work of charities to smaller-scale charity work on the ground in local communities, which they viewed as distinct from the work of larger, well-known international charities.
Increased trust in smaller, local charities was also reflected overall, as the survey indicated that the public are more inclined to trust smaller, local charities that appear to have significant volunteer involvement, and charities run by volunteers were seen to be, in general, more trustworthy than those run by paid volunteers.
Importance of managing charity funds
The report refers to "lingering doubts" prevalent among the public about how donors' money is used, and it was noted that interviewees referred to stories (ie from the media) of charities either being created for personal gain or not using funds as intended without being asked.
However, 55% of those surveyed agreed that trustees should be cautious with charity funds, even if it may limit the help they can provide; and 62% agreed that trustees should be careful to spend charity funds only on a charity’s core purpose. However, a number of those surveyed noted sentiments against cautious investment and saving, summarised by one interviewee's comment that "just sitting on a pot of money isn’t good".
Charities and public debate
41% of the public (and 55% of trustees) agreed that charities should respond to social and cultural debates if they want to stay relevant and keep the support of donors (with 30% of the public interviewees disagreeing, and 29% being 'on the fence' about the issue). Just over half of interviewees supported the idea that charities could campaign for change in society if it helps them meet the needs of those who rely on them.
Value of registered charity status
The report highlights that registered status "remains a powerful marker of charities doing the right thing" and is connected, in the mind of the public, with the belief that the charity is more likely to be operating ethically, making maximum use of donations, and making an impact.
Registration operates as a "badge of extra confidence", with one response stating that a charity having a registered number "kind of releases that burden of knowing where our money’s gone".
Knowing the Commission
However, the researched highlighted that the public continue to have little real knowledge or understanding of the Charity Commission, with only 18% of the public agreeing that they say they know the Charity Commission 'very' or 'fairly well'.
Those who had heard of the Commission, or were familiar with it, tended to think that the Commission’s focus should be split between dealing with wrongdoing and supporting charities. In addition, interviewees suggested the Commission should acknowledge external influences, but not let them distract from their independent regulation.
Click here to view the full report.