Trust for Charities at Six-Year High
6 December 2016 at 10:55 am
The reputation of major Australian charities has recovered after two years of losing ground, according to the 2016 Charity Reputation Index.
More than half of the country’s 40 largest charities saw a “significant” increase in reputation scores and the highest trust levels since 2011, boosting the overall sector score from the “strong” to “excellent” threshold.
The top 20 charities also had reputation scores higher than the best-ranked Australian corporates.
Oliver Freedman, managing director of research consultant AMR, which compiles the annual index, said fewer damaging incidents helped repair the reputation of the sector.
“We’ve seen some large reputational issues for specific charities over the last few years, and I feel the last year has been a little bit quieter,” Freedman told Pro Bono Australia News.
“At the same time we’ve had a number of corporate issues over the past year in a number of different industries, and so potentially that comparison has allowed that trust in charities to recover some of that lost ground.
“When you do have a strong reputation you can get through certain difficult times, and in this case it’s a whole sector, to actually allow a sector to come through.”
For the sixth year in a row the Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS) was the most trusted charity in Australia, with a score of 96.9 out of 100.
RFDS CEO Martin Laverty said he was pleased by Australia’s “enduring trust” in the organisation.
“Ultimately, our reputation is only as good as the care we provide to the next country Australian who calls for Flying Doctor help,” Laverty said.
St John Ambulance moved up four ranks to second and Beyondblue moved up one rank to number three.
Guide Dogs, which ranked second highest last year, dropped two positions to number four. The National Breast Cancer Foundation moved up five ranks, rounding out the top five.
Freedman said charities were working hard to improve their reputation, “making sure that their actions deliver on their promises, that they have that transparency in their activities and what they’re doing”.
“I think the community has given them a chance to deliver that, and that trust is there,” he said.
“While it had dropped off a little bit, it was always strong and it continues to have that among the Australian population.
“I don’t think it ever became weak, there was some lessening over the last couple of years, but that trust has been regained in the last 12 months.”
The index surveys Australians to measure the overall reputation of the largest charities, based on data from the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, and includes dimensions such as services, innovation, citizenship, leadership and cost management.
Freedman said the data identified the key drivers influencing public perception of charities.
“[One is] being able to convey how the charity is impacting the community positively, and that could be local community, Australia or global community,” he said.
“If I have a look at some of the charities, their communication is, more and more, identifying… the benefits they create for the community, rather than just the cause that they support.
“The others are really being able to show what are the specific services that are being delivered and how the charities are adapting to changing times, continuing to innovate.
“We often think about innovation in the area of corporates and that they’ve got to innovate, and… what we’re seeing is that the community want that also from their charities, that they may have been around a long time but they have to continue to adapt to the changing needs that the community have.”
He warned charities to continue working to improve their individual trust levels. The index found that, despite moving down in the rankings, no charities saw a significant decline in overall score.
He said this indicated that a stable reputation was not enough to maintain a strong ranking in a competitive sector.
“Standing still and saying ‘I’m fine, I’m well trusted’ [isn’t enough]. In this sector you need to continue to work on that,” he said.
“You’ve got to work to communicate effectively and consistently on… the causes that you’re supporting, how you’re benefiting the community and… understand what risks might be for a particular organisation, how to mitigate them, but also then how to continue to build that trust with the Australian population as a whole.”
However, Freedman said there were tangible outcomes for the sector moving into the “excellent” reputation threshold as a whole.
“Were there to be particular news stories or issues that impact the sector, it means that the community as a whole will give the sector at least the opportunity to explain that, to trust that they’ll do the right thing,” he said.
“I think the other thing is that it’s important to note, when we’re talking about the sector we’re talking about, in effect, these 40 charities. We’re talking about these… well-established charities.
“The sector’s changing with crowdfunding and those types of charitable causes that are able to reach out to members of the general population. And I guess it does say that these more established charities have the trust.
“I guess disruption comes to the sector or alternative ways of raising… they’re able to continue to raise funds from the community based on that strong reputation, if they’re able to show how people can relate to and feel close to the causes and the services that they’re actually providing.”
He said AMR would consider including emerging platforms and new technologies in future indices, as they continue to influence the sector.
“We’ve sort of spoken about that this year, there’s probably a couple of ways. One is do we potentially expand the list beyond 40,” he said.
“The other thing is to start to have a look at how do people relate to those sorts of platforms… and they’re not necessarily organisations, they’re specific causes. Someone in the community is sick and they email and ask to put in $20 or $50.
“So I think that’s definitely something we’re looking at for next year to understand if it’s viewed as one sector or whether there are any differences between these more established charities and maybe those newer ways of raising funds.”