The Charity Commission has published its annual research on public trust in charities and what trustees think about their duties and public expectations.
According to the research, public trust in charities has risen although the increase is minimal. ‘This marks the third year in a row of steady public trust in charities, suggesting that the recovery from the 2015-2020 trust crisis may have reached a plateau that remains below historic highs.’
Interviews with members of the public drawn from different parts of the population show that, ‘as a result of high-profile scandals from as early as 2015, the sector is not automatically given the benefit of the doubt, even if the work of local charities during the cost of living crisis may have bolstered some people’s existing belief in the value and impact that charities can bring’.
The research measures public trust against four key expectations:
- That a high proportion of charities’ money is used for charitable activity
- That charities are making the impact they promise to make
- That the way they go about making that impact is consistent with the spirit of ‘charity’
- That all charities uphold the reputation of charity in adhering to these
The findings show that trust tends to be stronger in small, local, volunteer-led charities than larger, national charities. The public hopes that tolerance is shown when dealing with honest mistakes, particularly with smaller, volunteer-run charities, for which education would be more beneficial than punishment. However, larger, professional charities are held to higher standards in this regard, as the public believe they should be more aware of procedures.
The trustee experience research found that trustees’ understanding of their role and confidence in performing it remains high: ‘Trustees feel able to align appropriately with public expectations and protect charities and their beneficiaries from harm. A vast majority of trustees prefer caution over risk in their approach to spending, while a similar proportion feels it should be a charity’s core purpose rather than trustees’ judgement that guides their decisions.’
However, trustees look primarily to colleagues and other trustees for advice, while half of trustees never seek help from the Charity Commission. The majority of charities also tend to rely on personal links to recruit new trustees.
The research found that trustees who do use the Commission guidance tend to understand their responsibilities better.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
If you’re not sure where to start, we recommend the Charity Commission’s 5-minute guides for charity trustees as a good introduction to the main areas of responsibility.
There are lots of resources to support trustees with good governance on the Third Sector Support Wales Knowledge Hub.