Public don’t trust charities any more than strangers in street

Street people

New chair questions public confidence  

17th April 2018 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

People are no more likely to trust charities any more than they would a stranger in the street, the chair of England’s Charity Commission has claimed.

Addressing the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ annual conference, Baroness Stowell said that charities across the UK carry out important work, adding that the “potential of charity to build meaning and to contribute to a healthy, successful society is profound.”

However she admitted that “we have a problem” as some of those registered with the commission “are no longer trusted automatically by the public.”

“That’s not just my opinion,” she told delegates. “It’s the conclusion of extensive, independent research, the latest of which is underway right now and will be published later this year.”

Issues in the charity sector needed to be examined in the same way as those in big business and the private sector, Baroness Stowel said,  pointing out that public expectations are actually higher of the voluntary sector.  

Scandals such as the sexual harassment of staff by Save the Children executives, Oxfam aid workers using prostitutes in Haiti, and the harassment of hostesses at the Presidents Club's fundraising events had contributed to public scepticism about charities. 

“People clearly are less trusting of institutions and of those in positions of authority than they once were. But that’s not because our parents and grandparents were more naïve,” she said.

“It’s because people now have more evidence to prove their suspicions. They are more sceptical of those in powerful roles or in positions that were once associated with respect, because they can see or have experienced directly how those groups really have let them down.

We’ve seen people horrifically abuse the respected position they hold - Baroness Stowell

“The failings may manifest themselves in different ways. And in the worst cases we’ve seen people horrifically abuse and show contempt for the respected position that they hold. But whatever the failing, it adds up to people seeing and believing that those in charge of important institutions are running them in their own interests, for their own benefit.”

In her first speech as chair, the former leader of the House of Lords said that her overriding aim was to work with the sector to regain public trust.

She was imposed as the regulator in February by ministers against the wishes of a cross-party group of MPs who said that she lacked experience of charities.

Some leaders of charities were angered by the comments. One woman was applauded when she told baroness Stowell that the percentage of charities at which there had been misbehaviour was small and the sector wanted her to act as its champion, not “downplay” its work. Stowell said that she had to focus on public confidence in charities.

Statistics published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and Ipsos Mori in February showed public trust in Scotland is substantially higher when compared to England and Wales. 

The findings led to the launch of the I Love Charity campaign aiming to support good governance within organisations to ensure they are well run, open and transparent.