31 August 2017 at 8:34 am
Charities are an expression of trust in our communities and our democracy, yet trust is declining in Australia and worldwide. So we must continue to honour and enhance the trust charities enjoy if we are to be an effective antidote against increased fear and loss of hope, writes CEO of Community Council for Australia, David Crosbie.
Most charities know their most important commodity is trust. We trade in trust. It is one of the reasons the vast majority of charities support a strong and independent Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC). It is why many of us worked so hard to ensure one of the three objects of the ACNC was to maintain and build public trust and confidence in our sector.
Unfortunately, trust is diminishing in Australia and around the world.
The Edelman Global Trust Barometer released earlier this year is based on over 33,000 respondents across 28 countries. It is the seventeenth annual survey providing comparative data about global levels of trust.
One of the interesting aspects of this global trust barometer is the way it separates respondents into two groups: those it refers to as the informed public who have a university education, are aged over 25, regularly consume news media, and have an income in the top 15 per cent; and the remaining 85 per cent of respondents grouped into the mass population group.
In some ways this separation of the highest paid, most informed from the rest of the community reflects the discourse about the division between those who currently benefit from globalisation and technological change, and those who might be left languishing.
This report finds there is a significant and growing gap between the levels of trust felt by the informed public and the rest – the more powerful have a 60 per cent trust score, the rest only 45 per cent.
NGOs are trusted above business, next comes the media, and governments rank lowest for being able to be relied on to do the right thing.Trust in all four has declined in the last 12 months.
In the year since the previous survey Australians’ trust in the media has dropped by 10 per cent, government trust is down 8 per cent, NGO trust down 5per cent, and business down 4 per cent.
Just over half the respondents in Australia still trusted NGOs – one of the few areas where Australia is equal to or above the average score of all the countries.
When asked to rate statements like: “the system is in favour of the elites; elites do not care about others; our children will not have a better life; hard work is not rewarded; our country is not headed in the right direction”, the findings revealed that the sense of injustice, lack of hope and lack of confidence are all increasing.
The majority of respondents now indicate they no longer have faith in the system they live and work in. Only 15 per cent believe the system is working well.
Australians appear to have above average fears around the negative impacts of immigration, globalisation and eroding social values. We are not so concerned about corruption.
The findings confirm that fear is an important factor driving political outcomes. Brexit supporters were twice as likely to be fearful as those who supported remaining in the EU; Trump voters were 50 per cent more fearful than Clinton voters.
The researchers at Edelman also suggest the power pyramid has been inversed. Previously, the small minority of elites at the top tended to control the system and make policies that trickled down or were imposed on the mass public. Now the mass public are rejecting the experts and the elite. Increasingly the mass public are seeking to impose their views on the elites.
When balancing the most believable sources for information, there were few surprises although it is interesting that 71 per cent of respondents found reformers more believable than those trying to preserve the status quo. Trust in traditional media as a source of information has declined significantly, peers are valued above experts.
Australia is one of the countries identified by the researchers as experiencing a crisis in trust – we are below average for levels of trust amongst both the powerful and informed, and the mass public.
For charities the decline in trust is a concern, but it is not all bad news.
Charities remain more trusted than governments or business. Our voice is more believable.
Charities are in the best position to work with communities as equal partners rather than the more traditional constituent/subject or customer relationships of government and business.
In many ways, the informed elite versus the rest of the population is a divide grounded in a largely economic view of power and influence. Charities are focused on cohesion and collaboration, in creating opportunities for all of us to belong, the rich and the poor, the informed and the less informed.
Charities are a critical part of the solution to terrorism and other attempts to increase fear and undermine community trust. Charities are also part of the push to improve communities and create opportunities for individual and community growth beyond the more economic focus of business and government. Charities recognise and embrace the fundamental importance of social values which is why charities have such a critical part to play in delivering responses to social issues that reflect core community values.
In acknowledging the importance of arresting the slide in public trust, the OECD has suggested all governments need to be more active in delivering:
- reliability – minimising uncertainty;
- responsiveness – capacity of government supported services to meet needs;
- openness – active engagement with citizens and good access to (government) information;
- better regulation – important in many areas of community life including justice;
- integrity and fairness – clean, fair and honest government; and
- inclusive policy making – policies that strengthen communities.
In many ways, this listing provides a good touchstone for all charities in their engagement with their communities. For us to build community trust in our organisations, we need to be demonstrating the authenticity of our engagements through better enacting these behaviours.
There is an ongoing public discourse about charities and trust that we need to actively engage in. We should not allow ill-informed critics and opportunists to undermine our sector or the work of our regulator. Equally, we need to demonstrate through our actions that we are part of the solution, not the problem of trust.
We have a critical role to play in building trust in Australia and around the world. We will not achieve the Australia we want if we allow the crisis of trust to deepen.
About the author: David Crosbie is CEO of the Community Council for Australia. He has spent more than 20 years as CEO of significant charities including five years in his current role, four years as CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia, seven years as CEO of the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia, and seven years as CEO of Odyssey House Victoria.
David Crosbie writes exclusively for Pro Bono News on a fortnightly basis, covering issues of importance to the broader not-for-profit sector.