Over four in ten people are suspicious about where their donations to charities actually go – while only a little over half think that charities are ‘essential’. Those are the key findings from a new survey by the Charity Commission.
The survey found that trust in public institutions overall dipped from 2021 to 2022, with charities’ rating falling by 0.2 points to 6.2 out of 10.
Charities still trail doctors (7.2) in the regulator’s rankings but are now ahead of the police (5.8), whose rating fell by 0.8 points year-on-year.
The research, conducted in spring 2022, found that people living in more affluent areas with higher ethnic and cultural diversity trusted charities more compared to those in less diverse areas with low economic security.
Public trust in charities peaked in 2012-2014 at 6.7, according to the report, before dropping to a low of 5.5 in 2018. the previous two years, it recovered, reaching 6.4 in 2021 before declining to 6.2 in 2022.
The report also found that fewer members of the public (56%) thought charities were “essential” or “very important” for society than last year (60%), and compared to a high of 76% in 2012.
It found concerns over donated money not reaching beneficiaries was a common reason for members of the public not trusting charities.
The research undertaken by consultancy Yonder said that “the charity sector still struggles to shrug off lingering doubts about the way it uses the funds that are entrusted to it. These doubts have little to do with the pandemic or with other institutions. Such scepticism is particularly acute in the low security, low diversity part of the public.”
But the report said charities were “faring as well as might be hoped” considering the “bruising” declines in public trust generally and steeper drops for the police and political establishment.
Concern over money not reaching beneficiaries
Researchers said doubts about where donors’ money goes were brought up in their conversations with members of the public.
“Most people are still instinctually inclined to trust charities but this year’s research confirms again that the uncertainty about the use to which donations are put remains stubbornly widespread.
“Interviewees continue to bring up both anecdotal evidence of charities either being created for personal gain or not using funds as intended, or media stories of charities in the public eye misappropriating funds.”
Charities must show prudence
Charity Commission chair Orlando Fraser said the figures showed that trust in the sector had “largely held up over the last year”.
But he warned charities that trust was “conditional” and that the public expected there to be a “high proportion of funds [that] goes on the end cause”.
“I urge charities to listen to what the public is telling them, and to keep in mind, at all times, one of their most basic legal duties, namely that of prudence.
“A central principle even during times of calm, this will become an ever more important watchword as charities navigate the difficult months ahead, stewarding the charitable funds they are entrusted with.”
Public trust in charities has held strong
One of the national bodies ACEVO welcomed “the Commission’s findings that public trust in charities has largely held strong in a time when trust in public institutions and other areas of civic life has fallen”.
“The vital role of charities, of all sizes and issues, has never been more apparent than during the pandemic. In times like these the public can see, more clearly than ever, the work our sector does and the integrity, and commitment that sits behind it.
“As a sector, we set a high bar for ourselves in terms of the ways we use our resources to make real impact, and our sector’s leaders are continuously and acutely aware of the need for good stewardship of their charities’ relationship with the public.”
More charities removed from register
In the year to March 2022, the Commission removed 5,252 charities from the register, compared to 3,316 in the previous 12 months. It offered no explanation for the increase. The main reason why charities are struck off is because they failed to deliver their annual accounts on time.
As of 31 March, there were 169,029 registered charities with a combined income of £83.8bn in England and Wales, down from 169,862 organisations with a combined income of £84.1bn a year earlier.
During 2021-22, the Commission received 8,005 applications (8,354 in 2020-21) to register a charity, just over half (52%) of which were successful (60% in 2020-21), which the regulator said demonstrated that its processes “involve robust scrutiny”.
So, can we trust charities?
As an £84 billion ‘industry’, the charity sector needs to be run honestly and professionally by appropriately paid people (supported by unpaid trustees and volunteers). The vast majority of charities are.
The evidence confirms, convincingly, that they aren’t run by con artists lining their own pockets, and/or spending the public’s money on inflated salaries and unnecessary administrative costs.
“You can’t just trust everyone because there are fraudsters out there. You need to be wary, and obviously there are stories about fraud. Not everyone has a moral compass. That doesn’t mean to say you should be so sceptical that you can’t trust the people that are doing good work. Like anything in life, you have to use your instincts to make choices, and that’s no different for charity.” – Quote from the Charity Commission report
So, can we trust charities? Unequivocally, yes we can.