What the UK Public Thinks About Its Charities
11 March 2014 at 9:18 am
New research has revealed that a third of the UK public says its views towards charities have become more positive in the last three years, compared with a quarter who are now more negative.
This is despite recent high profile negative press coverage about the UK charity sector.
However, the authors of a briefing paper on the research, New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), have warned charities not to be complacent and to find ways to address concerns held by the public.
Mind the gap, based on polling conducted on behalf of NPC by Ipsos MORI, was undertaken to explore whether the recent criticism of charities, from politicians and the UK media on issues including lobbying and excessive levels of CEO pay and coverage of ethical investments, had adversely affected the public’s attitude to the sector.
The top five concerns were that charities spend too much on executive salaries (42 per cent), are not transparent enough about how they are spending their money (36 per cent), spend too much abroad (29 per cent), put pressure on people to donate (29 per cent) and spend too much on running costs (26 per cent).
Three fifths of respondents (58 per cent) thought that charity CEOs should earn less than an MP, with 16 per cent thinking that CEOs should not be paid at all. However, only around one in ten (11 per cent) were unhappy about spending on employees’ salaries suggesting that the public are mainly concerned with pay at the higher end.
The research also revealed an important gap between what the public think charities should be doing compared to what they think they actually do. Over half thought that charities should be helping communities but just 35 per cent think they spend their time doing this.
Some 48 per cent say they pay attention to evidence that an organisation is having an impact when making a donation although 50 per cent pay little attention or none at all. It found that around one in ten people (9 per cent) say that they pay extremely close attention.
“One of the reasons for these findings could be that the public does not really understand what charities—or their leaders—actually do," NPC Chief Executive Dan Corry said.
Corry says that charities have a role to play in bridging this gap in perception with their own supporters by explaining their role and why they take the decisions that they do.
“For example, charity boards should be more vocal about the principles on which they have based a CEO’s pay, a perspective that was largely missing from the recent debate. Indeed all of those who work for charities in the UK have a role to play in building the reputation of the sector and countering misperceptions.”
NPC also argues that the sector needs to come up with a joint strategy to talk to the public about its changing role and to respond more comprehensively to criticism.
“Not all charities are perfect and the sector must be open about this, but many of the comments made about the sector are unfair and misleading. If the sector can work together, it will be in a stronger position to withstand any erosion of trust it might yet suffer should the attacks by the press and MPs continue,” Corry said.
Over the past year, UK charities have been variously criticised by politicians, media commentators and philanthropists for high CEO pay, unprofessionalism and lack of transparency.
A third (32 per cent) of the public say that their views towards charities have become more positive in the last three years, compared with almost a quarter (23 per cent) who have become more negative.
The top five concerns people have about charities are that they spend too much on executive pay (42 per cent), are not transparent enough about their spending (36 per cent) and spend too much abroad (29 per cent), put pressure on people to donate (29 per cent), and spend too much on running costs (26 per cent).
There is a gap between what the public thinks charities should be doing as opposed to what they think they are actually doing. For example, over half (56 per cent) think that charities should be helping communities but just a third (35 per cent) think they spend their time doing this. Conversely, 51 per cent think that they should be raising money for good causes compared with 55 per cent who feel that they spend their time on this.
Half of people (47 per cent) say they pay attention to evidence that an organisation is having an impact when making a donation, including one in ten (9 per cent) who say that they pay ‘extremely close attention’ to understanding the difference an organisation makes.
“We urge charities not to be complacent about high overall levels of public trust by being transparent about their spending and as accountable about their impact as possible. Sector-wide bodies already play their part in trying to inform the public but perhaps more coordination would help this be more effective,” Cory said.
“The UK Charity Commission also has a vital role in reassuring the public about the high standards that the sector is required to abide by.”