by Christine Corlet-Walker, Consultant at Aleron (Scotland)

In June, Scottish Charity Regulator OSCR released its research findings from The Scottish Charity Surveys 2016. The report highlighted a decline in the public’s trust in Scottish charities in 2016. This came shortly after similar findings were uncovered through a UK wide Charity Commission report conducted by Populus, Public Trust and Confidence in Charities, 2016.

With part of the Aleron team now based in Edinburgh, we are beginning to understand this local context first hand.

The findings are stark. The Populus report showed that trust in charities has fallen by 15% in the past 2 years, with primary reasons being cited as “critical media coverage of charity practices”, “distrust about how charities spend donations”, “a lack of knowledge among the public about where their donations go” and “perceptions of aggressive fundraising tactics”. Whilst the OSCR report showed a less dramatic trend, it did reveal particular concerns among the Scottish public about charity scandals, CEO salaries and aggressive fundraising techniques:

Issue % of OSCR respondents
Negative press and media coverage of charity scandals 54%
Money going to charity CEOs and management 35%
Money does not reach where it is meant to 32%
Hounding/harassing people 12%

The charitable sector is built on trust, so how can it begin to re-build its relationship with the public?

The issue of trust is often seen as a tough one to crack, with misconceptions and negative media coverage shaping people’s perceptions. However, there are a number of things all charities can do to ensure you gain the trust of potential new supporters, and retain the trust of your longstanding supporters:

  1. Be transparent: this one is easy to say and harder to do. It means understanding your own processes, levers of change and social impact, in order that you can articulate them to investors, funders and the public.
  2. Be accountable: charities need to be accountable to their beneficiaries and their donors. Ensure you ask their opinion, understand whether they are satisfied with the engagement they have had, and respond to any concerns they raise
  3. Collaborate with others: collaboration fosters trust both within and between charities themselves, and when engaging with the outside world. Joint strategies, programmes, and publishing of results can ensure honesty of approach and reporting.
  4. Think about the long-term value of your supports: Many charities are now modelling the Lifetime Value of supporters, a technique that looks at each donor, partner, and volunteer as individuals and considers the value they can bring, whether financial or in-kind.
  5. Collect data and shout about your results! This tip underpins the other four. In order to really foster trust, you must understand your beneficiaries, your change mechanisms, your impact and your donors and supporters. This will allow you to communicate effectively and transparently with them. The better your evidence base, the more easily people feel able to trust what you say.

All charities need to find ways of achieving sustainability and potentially growth in the face of new challenges coming from an increasingly technological and data-driven world. This is a trend that won’t reverse, so it’s better to invest in the systems, skills and processes now, to enhance your capabilities and ensure that you can respond dynamically; staying ahead of the curve.

Taking a transparent, data-driven approach to achieving change and when communicating that change to supporters and the wider public will certainly bring benefits to charities in Scotland.