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Public trust in charities remains stable, Commission research shows

Melanie May | 19 July 2023 | News

Trust written in the sand. By LisaLoveTo Dance on pixabay

After doctors, charities are the most trusted and well regarded institution, according to Charity Commission research, with trust continuing to be closely linked to the public seeing a high proportion of funds used for charitable activity, making the difference that they promise to make, and working in a way that is consistent with charitable values.

And, although public trust has not yet regained pre-2014 levels, it has remained stable since 2020.

The Charity Commission’s latest annual public trust research reveals too that the public is more inclined to trust charities that are small, local or where they feel a personal connection to the cause. Trust in charities also remains higher in more diverse and affluent urban communities, than in areas of lower security and diversity.


Why your supporters are wealthier than you think... Course by Catherine Miles. Background photo of two sides of a terraced street of houses.

Just over half of the public overall perceive charities as essential or very important, and this too has remained at a steady level in recent years. Again though, this is higher among high security and high diversity parts of the public (73% in 2023, vs, 40%).

The report on public trust notes: “Those who are already inclined to trust charities are more prone to recognise the important work that charities are doing in supporting those in need during the cost of living crisis. They refer to food banks and kitchens, often in their local areas. Those who are less inclined to trust charities stop short of describing them as essential due to existing doubts (either consciously or subconsciously) about stewardship of funds. Though they, too, note the increased visibility of charities following the cost of living crisis, they tend to credit this to smaller-scale charity work in local communities, which they view as distinct from the work of larger, international charities.”

The research also looked at public feelings on the spending of charity funds, with the findings highlighting the importance of demonstrating effective stewardship of funds – the public think trustees should minimise risk and focus on core purpose when spending them, but that spending should not be so cautious that the end cause is unduly limited.

In a blog on the research, the Charity Commission’s Paul Latham comments that the annual research (which also covers trustees) relates closely to its statutory objectives. These include increasing public trust and confidence in charities; promoting compliance by charity trustees with their legal obligations; and enhancing the accountability of charities to donors, beneficiaries and the wider public. In this context, this year’s findings are ‘broadly reassuring’, he notes.

He adds:

“In these challenging times, trustees continue to feel confident that they understand what the public expects of them. Demonstrating prudent stewardship of funds is more critical than ever. Both trustees and the public generally feel that charities should avoid excessive risk and focus on their core purposes when deciding how to spend funds. Equally, though, the public feels charities should not be so cautious that they end up simply accumulating money.”