Charities must establish “minimum campaigning standards” to improve falling levels of public trust, the chief executive of the Research Institute for Consumer Affairs has said.
Speaking at NCVO’s Campaigning Conference in London yesterday, Jon Quinn, chief executive of the Research Institute for Consumer Affairs, said that charity campaigners can no longer justify some of their behaviour because they are “on the side of the angels” and the sector must establish minimum campaigning standards to improve dwindling public trust.
“I’m one of the few people who think the sector should establish minimum campaigning standards. I don’t think it’s acceptable for us to say we’re on the side of the angels and that we can do what we damn well like. No we can’t,” said Quinn.
“Well, the law may say otherwise but there’s also something called ethics. Understanding and establishing that trust with the public requires good practice and I think we need to do that, act with integrity, be fair and proportionate, and dare I say it we need to be professional.”
Quinn said that the issue of falling public trust and confidence in the charitable sector as a whole was a “real problem, not just one that exists on the editorial boards of the Daily Mail, The Times and one or two Tory backbenchers” and said campaigners needed to be at the forefront of efforts to fix it.
“Campaigning sits at the heart of the problem and it comes back to the points around how we’re seen and how we operate which leads to a lack of public trust. The behaviour of some tarnishes us all, so we do need to be mindful and thinking as a sector, about how we address that. There’s real public anger out there.”
He said one of the ways to do that, as well as establishing minimum standards, was to attempt to “detoxify” the perception of campaigning organisations as being too “shouty”. He also said that that many charities, particularly large ones, have become “too corporate” and were now being viewed as part of the establishment, “which has become a dirty word, particularly outside of London”.
Charities share responsibility for public perception of issues
Speaking alongside Quinn, Russell Hargrave, press manager at Power to Change, said that charities must share responsibility for the public perception of issues important to them, particularly when a campaign or advocacy group fails.
Hargrave said that, while working at Asylum Aid, his organisation collaborated with 10 other immigration charities to work on a publicity campaign between 2010 and 2014. He said that, due to one sticking point in terms of principle, the group was unable to produce a collaborative campaign in four years.
“We couldn’t work together because there was one policy disagreement that was so massive, so broad, which wasn’t covered by our collective set of principles, which meant that we couldn’t get anywhere.
“The campaigners, the researchers, the chief executives even, all met and yet we couldn’t get passed this one problem and as a result we couldn’t get anything off the ground and it was the most frustrating thing in the world.”
During that time, the tabloids were running “numerous front pages which were very hostile to immigration” which changed public perception and the charities were powerless to change the narrative.
“We weren’t part of the debate. You take Migration Watch, they can build a lobby of people who can collectively express their concerns about immigration in no time, yet on the other side of the debate we just couldn’t do it. We weren’t offering competition. It wasn’t realistic and I think charities had some level of responsibility for the public believing that immigration is too high in the UK.”