Members of the public now trust charities more than police, according to research conducted on behalf of the Charity Commission.
The Commission’s latest annual report found trust in public institutions overall dipped from 2021 to 2022, with charities’ rating falling by 0.2 points to 6.2 out of 10.
Charities still trail doctors (7.2) in the regulator’s rankings but are now ahead of the police (5.8), whose rating fell by 0.8 points year-on-year.
The research, conducted in spring 2022, found people living in more affluent areas with higher ethnic and cultural diversity trusted charities more compared to those in less diverse areas with low economic security.
Public trust in charities peaked in 2012-2014 at 6.7, according to the report, before dropping to a low of 5.5 in 2018.
In the previous two years, it recovered, reaching 6.4 in 2021 before declining to 6.2 in 2022.
The report also found that fewer members of the public (56%) thought charities were ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ for society than last year (60%), and compared to a high of 76% in 2012.
It found concerns over donated money not reaching beneficiaries was a common reason for members of the public not trusting charities.
The research undertaken by consultancy Yonder included interviews with members of the public from “different corners of the population”.
It said these interviews revealed that “the charity sector still struggles to shrug off lingering doubts about the way it uses the funds that are entrusted to it”.
“These doubts have little to do with the pandemic or with other institutions. Such scepticism is particularly acute in the low security, low diversity part of the public,” it said.
But the report said charities were “faring as well as might be hoped” considering the “bruising” declines in public trust generally and steeper drops for the police and political establishment.
The report said there were far more who were sceptical about the value that charities can bring to society among the less diverse and less secure part of the public.
“This too can largely be accounted for by those same doubts about propriety and stewardship of funds,” it said.
Concern over money not reaching beneficiaries
Researchers said doubts about where donors’ money goes were brought up in their conversations with members of the public.
“Most people are still instinctually inclined to trust charities but this year’s research confirms again that the uncertainty about the use to which donations are put remains stubbornly widespread,” the report said.
“Interviewees continue to bring up both anecdotal evidence of charities either being created for personal gain or not using funds as intended, or media stories of charities in the public eye misappropriating funds.”
Commission chair: ‘Charities must show prudence’
Charity Commission chair Orlando Fraser said the figures showed that trust in the sector had “largely held up over the last year”.
But, in an article originally published by the Telegraph, Fraser warned charities that trust was “conditional” and that the public expected there to be a “high proportion of funds [that] goes on the end cause”.
“I urge charities to listen to what the public is telling them, and to keep in mind, at all times, one of their most basic legal duties, namely that of prudence,” he wrote.
“A central principle even during times of calm, this will become an ever more important watchword as charities navigate the difficult months ahead, stewarding the charitable funds they are entrusted with.”
ACEVO: 'Public trust in charities has held strong'
ACEVO said in a statement that it "welcomes the Commission’s findings that public trust in charities has largely held strong in a time when trust in public institutions and other areas of civic life has fallen".
"The vital role of charities, of all sizes and issues, has never been more apparent than during the pandemic. In times like these the public can see, more clearly than ever, the work our sector does and the integrity, and commitment that sits behind it," it said.
"The Commission’s reporting of public expectations of charities reflects the expectations we already have of ourselves. As a sector, we set a high bar for ourselves in terms of the ways we use our resources to make real impact, and our sector’s leaders are continuously and acutely aware of the need for good stewardship of their charities’ relationship with the public.
"We hope that the Commission, under its new chair, will work with our sector to develop further a well-informed, intelligent, narrative that supports that relationship now and in the future."