Almost all of the charity sector’s woes of recent months have been connected in some way with trust. Trust in what charities do with data. Trust in how they monitor suppliers. Trust in fundraising methods. Trust in how they spend money. Trust in how they treat donors.
Last year’s report by the Charity Commission on trust in charities saw the overall level fall to 5.7 out of 10 – a significant decrease from 6.7 in 2012 and 2014. Thirtythree per cent of the public said that their trust in charities had decreased, with just 6 per cent saying it had increased, over the last two years.
The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer saw falls across the board, with NGOs, business, media and government all losing ground, particularly among what it refers to as the “mass population”.
There is still a sense that at any moment another scandal, however badly reported and ill-informed, could hit the headlines and do significant damage. The advances that the sector has made over recent months could be wiped off the slate overnight with a few choice words from a subeditor’s keyboard (which in itself is ironic considering that the media is only trusted by 32 per cent of the UK population, according to Edelman).
How can fundraisers have allowed this to happen? Do we really think that the means justify the ends? At any cost? Or was everyone just asleep at the wheel?
Now that the regulatory tide is turning, charities, fundraisers and suppliers are grappling with what it means to be more ardently regulated and held accountable. The Fundraising Regulator, Charity Commission and ICO, although still not being able to offer black and white guidance, are being very clear in pointing out one thing: that bad practice will ultimately bring about your own downfall. It is about due diligence and that is each individual organisation’s responsibility.
There is no point in sulking after the fact. Yes we need clarity from regulators; yes we need open discussion on how best to operate. But the buck ends with fundraising departments. With their behaviour. So that when the rough gales of bad press start to blow again, which they will, fundraisers can defend themselves confidently, in the full knowledge that they behaved ethically and operated best practice at all levels. Changing that is the only way to truly restore trust.