The concepts are fundamental, particularly when it comes to fundraising. But they are subtly different and the power to influence them comes from quite different sources. Trust is something that charities themselves can generate and maintain; outside bodies can point to trustworthy factors in charities and help to generate confidence.
Interesting then that the FRSB focused on trust in its most recent research, for trust is not something the FRSB can influence directly: only its members and indeed, other charities and voluntary organisations, can build trust by having in place checks and measures to ensure the sorts of issues that cause trust to dissipate – high admin costs, poor fundraising practice, disgruntled employees or worse beneficiaries – are minimized. The regulation body can then promote confidence by telling the general public about what makes the difference – who can be trusted and who shouldn’t be and what to look for when working out whom to trust. But the FRSB can only do this if prepared to take a strong stance on practices that dent confidence and to date, it has shied away from doing so.
In Scotland, two fundraising scandals in 2003 generated a media storm and that year, donations across the sector fell by a third. Confidence was at rock bottom but several good things resulted: a charity law for Scotland, OSCR, the FRSB and a collaborative response from fundraisers in Scotland to encourage people to keep giving.
It is unclear if the controversy surrounding the New Pyjamas campaign at the Sick Kids Friends Foundation will diminish confidence in the wider sector. What is clear is that if we all duck for cover and do nothing, the impact will be greater. The issue that appears to be at the heart of this case is that the appeal’s costs far outweigh the funds generated. Some have tried to assure that this is not unusual in the early stages of an appeal but this is missing the point. It doesn’t matter what fundraisers and charities think: what counts is the public’s opinion and there are years of survey findings from nfpSynergy showing that the number one issue that bothers people and would cause them to complain about a charity is excessive admin costs.
It would be interesting to know what the FRSB is doing about the Sick Kids situation. Has it suspended the Foundation’s membership and launched an investigation into the organisation’s ability to fulfil its membership requirements? To help its recovery from this case, the Foundation needs a clean bill of health and to be seen to be an organisation that the public can trust. I doubt seriously if the Foundation has done anything wrong – it has always been a standard bearer for good fundraising practice – but to recover its reputation in the medium term it will need tools that help to stop the rumour mill. The FRSB’s central role is to maintain public confidence in its members and in fundraising activity generally; it must act and be seen to act in cases that threaten that confidence. For as we saw in 2003, we can all be damned by public perception.