Don’t panic: charity storm clouds have a silver lining


Susan Smith says don’t panic about falling trust levels, be proactive and seize the opportunity to create good news

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21st February 2018 by Susan Smith 0 Comments

There’s no denying, it’s a worry that public trust in charities has fallen by nearly 10% in just two years, but there’s an opportunity among all the negativity if proactive voluntary organisations choose to take it.

Although the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisation’s trust survey was conducted before the Oxfam scandal, it would be naïve to think that won’t affect trust levels even further. The disappointment people feel in that previously well-loved organisation is likely to erode their faith in other charities, in the short term at least.

The implications of falling public trust are a drop in donations, challenges in recruiting volunteers, difficulties encouraging people to back campaigns, and ultimately more problems providing services to the people in Scotland who need them. There’s no evidence yet that any of this is happening, but the sector needs to be prepared.

There's never been a better time to empower the citizen journalists that already exist within staff, volunteers and supporters

So, where’s the silver lining? Well, as TFN reports, faith in the work of charities in Scotland is still higher than in other parts of the UK. Scottish organisations exist in an environment of predominantly small, local bodies working closely with communities, and Scots who receive services from these organisations remain pretty happy. People who have a personal experience with a charity rate that organisation higher than they do the sector as a whole, which is good news.

This also comes in the context of an overall drop in public trust across society. We are becoming more sceptical in all areas. 

Why is this? Well it has something to do with the way we consume and create media and the much better access to information modern technology provides. It is now so much harder to hide mismanagement, criminality, bad practise and inconsistent values – as there’s always a citizen journalist out there ready to pounce. This is also good news.

The truth is that the 2017/18 revelations of sexual abuse of power will go down in history as a breakthrough moment for equality. Significant public attitude changes are long overdue in the realm of institutional sexism.

Scottish charities struggling to make ends meet in an environment of falling trust levels should hold onto the fact that the Scottish third sector has an awful lot to be proud of. The vast majority of organisations are well run and make Scotland a better place on a daily basis. Where the sector often under-performs is in the telling of this story.

Scottish charities mustn’t stick their heads in the sand, they do need to take a good look at themselves and make sure they’re living up to their mission and wider values. If all is good, though, there’s never been a better time to seize the moment and empower their own citizen journalists, be they staff, volunteers or supporters. There are so many fantastic ways to use digital and social media to tell the world what amazing work is being done.

The Gathering this week sees TFN launch the TFN Masterclass. This one is on Brilliant Blogging, and the team and some of our blogging friends will be providing insight and expertise on how to tell your story through blogging. If you can’t make it, look out for other Masterclasses later in 2018.

Susan Smith is editor of Third Force News.