Do people still trust charities?

Joy DobbsJoy Dobbs is an independent research consultant. She began working with NCVO in 2008. She also works for the Food Standards Agency and is a trustee of CVS St Albans, members of NCVO since 2000.

Over the last year or two, there has been concern that the public’s trust and confidence in charities may not be as strong as it was. Opinions are important, but at NCVO we prefer to use evidence wherever we can. I have been reviewing the current evidence; existing research is limited, but some information  about public views and trends is available, particularly from surveys carried out by MORI for the Charity Commission and for NPC and from NfP Synergy’s Charity Awareness Monitor.

Download our report ‘Trust and confidence in charities: An overview of the existing evidence’ (PDF, 950KB)

Overall levels of trust and confidence in charities

Most of the evidence finds no change in the public’s overall level of trust and confidence in charities – trust in charities remains high in comparison with other public bodies and institutions.

In the 2014 Charity Commission survey, respondents overall gave an average score of 6.7 out of 10 when asked how much trust and confidence do you have in charities. This is consistent with levels of trust in previous surveys (scores of 6.7 in 2012 and 6.6 in 2010).

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Has the overall perception of charities’ conduct changed?

There was a slightly more negative perception of charities’ conduct. There’s been:

  • a small decrease in the proportion of people believing that most charities are trustworthy and act in the public interest (71% in 2014 compared with 75% in 2010)
  • a small increase in the proportion of people believing that charities are regulated and controlled to ensure that they are working for the public benefit (60% agreed with this in 2014 compared with 64% in 2012 and 68% in 2010).

Has anything else changed in how the public views charities?

All the surveys indicate that charities’ use of funds is a key factor in people’s views, including:

  • donations making it to the end cause
  • spending too much on executive salaries or running costs
  • waste/where the money goes.

Although the overall scores on these factors have not generally changed over time, some of them are becoming increasingly important to the public.

In 2014…

Almost half (49%) of respondents said that trusting charities to ‘ensure that a reasonable proportion of donations make it to the end cause’ was the most important factor to their trust and confidence in charities overall.

Compared with…

Two-fifths of people gave the same answer in 2012 and 2010 (43% and 42% respectively). For the first time, this factor came out as the most important driver of trust and confidence.

Factors affecting trust

Contact with and knowledge of charities

The evidence generally shows higher levels of trust among:

  • people who work in the charity sector
  • have family or friends who do
  • people who report using or benefitting from charity service.

The proportion of people working in the sector (or having family or friends who do) has remained fairly stable over time whilst the proportion using or benefitting from charity services has increased markedly over the last 10 years.

The evidence generally shows lower levels of trust among people who feel they know little about charities or have no contact with charities. The overall proportion of people who feel they know little about charities has not changed over time.

There is an association between trust in charities and knowledge of and contact with charities

But, levels of trust are not necessarily higher with greater knowledge. A significant minority of people who feel they know a great deal or fair amount about charities nevertheless have low levels of trust.

There is also an association between trust and people’s views about the role of charities

Higher levels of trust are generally found:

  • among people who mainly associate charities with being small or apolitical or using public donation (rather than those who see them as large, political, or funded by government).
  • among people who mostly associate charities with being local or volunteer-run or focussed on providing services to people (rather than national/international or staffed by professionals or raising awareness of important issues).

Socio-demographic characteristics

Although the survey reports contain relatively little analysis by socio-demographic characteristics, levels of trust are found to vary somewhat by age and social grade, with higher levels of trust generally being found among:

  • younger people aged 18-34 (average score of 7.0 in 2014, compared with 6.3 among people aged 65 and over)
  • people in social grades AB.

There were no gender differences in trust and related issues. There were similarly patterns by age and social grade in relation to knowledge of and contact with charities.

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