Government and the Voluntary Sector, Governance, Leadership

When it comes to charities, trust is personal

The Charity Commission’s latest report shows how flawed data can be, particularly when collected from the public.

My grandmother used to say that when you are in your twenties you worry what people think about you. When you are in your forties you don’t care what they think about you, and by the time you reach your sixties you realise they have never been thinking about you at all.

This homily popped into my head when reading the latest Charity Commission report into trust and confidence in charities.  

A huge part of DSC’s work is research, so we are ourselves experts in understanding the value of research – and also how flawed data can be, particularly when collected from that amorphous mass “the public”.

Too often correlation is associated with causation. In fact it’s equally likely to be coincidence or another entirely unrelated situation that affects what people say.

The biggest challenge is that people don’t really understand what they are being asked.

The concept of “charity” is simple. The reality of running a charity is complex, which the general public don’t typically understand.

If they did, they might answer very differently.

For example, one particular question demonstrates how little folk understand about how charities need to be run, rather than providing information that charities can make decisions on.

When asked how much risk the public think a charity should take with its funds, 55 per cent say that charities should be cautious even if that caution means that fewer people will be helped.

Only 18 per cent think that charities should take risks with money to help people even if charitable funds are affected as a result.

If we extrapolate, it means that during the pandemic, more than half of the public would have argued that charities should not touch their reserves in order to keep services running – leaving folk to suffer in order to protect the money.

If people had been asked a specific question about a charity they support (clearly not possible with research of this nature) I doubt very much they would have still agreed with that statement.

But even if they had, the duty of the trustees is to meet their charitable objects in service of their beneficiaries while trying not to go bust.

Taking risks is a critical part of what a charity does. Without this, it can’t do its work. That’s particularly true of those trying to effect systemic change.

The reality is that when it comes to genuinely trusting or not trusting a charity, most folk are not thinking about charities en masse, they are thinking about the charities that personally affect them or the people they love.

When it comes to building trust, the only thing that matters is how the people you want to trust you feel about your charity – not charities in general.

Indeed, the commission’s report demonstrates that, for most, this is what matters.

The general public is not your problem. Concentrate on your own beneficiaries, service users, donors, volunteers and supporters, and ignore the rest. You’ll be fine.

This article was originally published on the Third Sector website, take a look here.