Quarter of Scots do not trust charities, survey reveals

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New research, conducted before the Oxfam scandal unravelled, has revealed that only 73% of people feel that they trust charities

21st February 2018 by Gareth Jones 1 Comment

More than a quarter of Scots do not trust charities – new research has revealed.

A study commissioned by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) has shown 27% of those questioned feel that charities are not worthy of trust – with the figure having been measured as 17% in a similar survey two years ago.

The research – an Ipsos Mori poll of 1,088 respondents – was carried out prior to the news that Oxfam workers had been involved in sexual misconduct and exploitation in Haiti.

Some commentators believe that is likely to affect public trust even further, making it hard for charities to raise funds from public donations, recruit volunteers and provide support to some of the country's most vulnerable.

In response to the research, SCVO has launched  a campaign to help voluntary organisation generate public trust in their work.

“Although trust in the sector is still high, these findings are a wake-up call for Scottish charities,” said John Downie, director of public affairs for SCVO.

“We know that the vast majority of Scottish charties are well run, but trust is fragile. While bad practice should be weeded out wherever it exists, we must act now to protect the reputations of charities that are well run and do amazing work day-in, day-out.”

The campaign – entitled I Love Charity – aims to support organisations to be well run and transparent, and to better publicise their achievements.

The research suggests negative media coverage has had an impact on how much the public trust charities.

More than a third of those questioned (38%) said that recent stories had made them lose confidence in charities, compared to 17% who has a poor recent experience.

With front pages of UK papers dominated by negative stories surrounding the Oxfam scandal and misconduct in other organisations, there are fears about the knock-on effect on donations.

TFN Top Ten Tips for Gaining Trust

Good governance

There is nothing more important than making sure your house is in order. If you’re playing by the rules, then the public should have no reason not to trust you. When governance issues arise, be sure to react to them rather than hoping they will go away

Be open and transparent   

If people are asking for valid information about your organisation, then accommodate their request. If you don’t know the answer, then try to refer them to OSCR or other relevant organisations.     

Connect with your supporters

Your supporters, volunteers and trustees are the people that matter most to your organisation. Be sure to keep them regularly updated on your work, and make them feel like they are playing a valuable part in your charity.

Tell your story

With negative charity stories getting lots of publicity, be sure to tell the public the good stories as well. Social media sites or local newspapers are a great way of letting people know what is it is you do, and how well you do it.         

Get out and about

There is only so much work that can be achieved from behind a computer screen. With great events for the third sector in Scotland taking place every month, get out there and meet those you are helping or can help.

Richard Hamer, from third sector consultancy firm Animate, said that charities could see donations drop.

“I think there is a middle group of people, like floating voters, who will be affected by this,” he said. “Perhaps those that aren’t regular supporters, but they give their money to a charity now and then, and may be more likely to think twice.

“I think if there is a decrease in trust, there is also likely to be a decrease in people who see charities in a positive light.”

As 73% of people questioned now believe that charities are trustworthy compared to 82% in 2015, Hamer said people seem to have changed their minds about charities, and that social media has possibly played a part.

He said: “Very little has changed over the past few years in the sector, it’s all very much the same as two years ago. That leads me to think it must be a perceptual thing.

“I don’t think you can overestimate the corrosive role that the media can have on charity trust over the past few years. I think social media has played a role too. There are always going to be people who are cynical about charities. I wonder whether social media has resulted in these people having a forum where they can air their views that they maybe wouldn’t have had before.”

According to the survey, personal experience was a key indicator of trust in charities. A total of 77% of those questioned rated their trust and confidence as six or above out of 10 for charities whose services they had used and 59% gave high scores of eight and above.

The research also found that trust in Scotland is higher than other parts of the UK. In England and Wales, only 61% of people agreed that most charities are trustworthy and act in the best interest of the public.

Wider research on trust in society has also shown an growing distrust in the government, businesses and the media.

The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, the largest and longest-running study of trust in the world, found that only 43% of the population trust business, whilst 67% of people said that the government do not deliver on promises that protect average people.

Responding to the news that public trust in charities is falling, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Charities in Scotland work hard to provide a helping hand and make a difference to countless individuals and communities. When problems occur, it is absolutely right that they are thoroughly investigated and that lessons are learned and acted upon.

“Robust systems of regulation and a strong legal framework are in place, in addition to a commitment to transparency. 

“Thousands of Scots benefit personally from the work of charities and know the huge contribution the third sector makes in helping Scotland to become a better and fairer place to live.”

Supporters were key in helping us stay afloat

Quarter of Scots do not trust charities, survey reveals

Starter Packs Glasgow is a charity which has bounced back from governance issues, and may not have survived had it not retained the trust of its local community.

The organisation was set up by a group of churches in 2000 but has been independent for more than a decade, providing household essentials to those who have secured properties after being homeless.

Manager Gavin Dunbar took the helm of the charity having volunteered and worked in its shop, The Magpie’s Eye, which sells vintage items.

He said: “The charity has always been run on a shoestring. Most charities struggle with the same things – funding, lack of volunteers and things like that.

“Five years ago we were really struggling, it was a real mess and a lot of things weren’t being done properly.

“But our two shops had such a good reputation, particularly the Magpie’s Eye. I don’t think most people were aware of the issues, but those that were aware gave us the benefit of the doubt because they knew what we wanted to do.”

With rare records often appearing on its shelves, the Magpie’s Eye has developed a significant following, which has allowed Starter Packs to spread information on the work it carries out.

“I think one of the reasons that Starter Packs Glasgow has survived is that the community has been so supportive and know that we are in this for the right reasons,” Dunbar said.

“They know what we do, and what we are trying to do. The Magpie’s Eye shop brings people into Govan, and they look out for the stuff that we sell. When they come to the shop, they meet the staff and can see what we are all about.

“Social media has also been key. People see items they like on our Facebook page and head straight for the shop. This has allowed us to gain a good following online.”

“We really are a community based charity but that doesn’t mean we can’t be professional about what we do. It’s all about making the most of donations, volunteers and staff. It’s also about making the most of what you do for the community and the people that you help."

22nd February 2018 by Michael

I think we will find, digging deeper, this is coming from "chugging" and very poor "fund raising" practices over concerns of governance, which were widely put to bed by the OSCR. That being said fund raising regulation is *new* and will require time to bear fruit. I would say it took the OSCR a good few years to fully clean up governance; which at this point is world class in Scotland. So we can do it. The public are not fully aware that fund raising is changing, for the better. It needs to get out to the public that fund raising from shops to store collections to endowment soliciting to even yes the dreaded "chugging" (which most charities thankfully are abandoning now) is changing for the better via regulation. However they need to see the changes happening before confidence will go up. This is a challenge for charities to do better on their fund raising drives and showing how that money is spent.