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Australians Losing Trust in Charities

7 February 2018 at 5:28 pm
Wendy Williams
Australians are losing trust in charities, and turning to CEOs and corporate leaders to tackle social issues, according to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer.

Wendy Williams | 7 February 2018 at 5:28 pm


Australians Losing Trust in Charities
7 February 2018 at 5:28 pm

Australians are losing trust in charities, and turning to CEOs and corporate leaders to tackle social issues, according to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer.

The latest data from the global survey, which spans 28 countries and was released on Wednesday, revealed that trust has declined in all four institutions – government, business, media and NGOs – for the second consecutive year.

Trust in NGOs fell from 52 to 48 per cent, marking the first time since 2013 that all four institutions have been classified as “distrusted”, with business not trusted to do the right thing and government seen as “broken”.

It places Australian institutions among the least trusted in the world, with Australia’s Trust Index just four percentage points higher than the least trusting country, Russia.

Edelman Australia CEO Steven Spurr told Pro Bono News it was disconcerting that all four major institutions were now more distrusted than trusted.

“So NGOs have been above 50 per cent for most of their 18 years of this study, and for them now to be below 50 per cent means that we don’t trust any of the main institutions of life in Australia, with 48 per cent being the highest,” Spurr said.

“When we ask people what NGOs are there for, there are certain things that Australians really look to them for and those top three things are [to] investigate corruption and wrongdoing, to sort of be the monitors on the other institutions, to ensure that even the poorest people in society have minimum standards to live a decent life and to be the champion of the ordinary person. So those are the three things, mandates if you were, that the Australian people put in NGOs hands.

“Given that overall trust has fallen my assumption is that the Australian public don’t full believe that those mandates are being delivered on.”

Spurr said the decline in trust in NGOs could be due to a number of reasons.

“I think it might be because in modern life more and more of us interact with NGOs of all different shapes. It’s not just charities, it is organisations that provide support around the fringes of government provision, what traditionally 20 years ago would have been provided by the government is sometimes now provided by NGOs, so ultimately you are then in a position as a consumer that you are judging that NGO to be more part of the system than a fix in the system,” he said.

“Yes, trust is low, if you delivered on the mandates and delivered more focus on the mandates; which are champion the ordinary person, making sure even the poorest have minimum standards and investigate corruption and wrongdoing, those are the things that ultimately are the trust drivers for NGOs and if they were delivered on, your license or the license of the third sector would lift even more.”

As it stands, NGOs continue to outperform other Australian institutions at 48 per cent, compared with business rated at 45 per cent, government at 35 per cent and trust in the media at a record low of just 31 per cent.

The Trust Barometer’s findings revealed that Australians were gravely concerned about the country’s current system of governance, with a majority (56 per cent) saying that government was the most broken institution, while only 6 per cent of Australians said business was the most broken.

Spurr said it was “deeply troubling” that a majority of Australians believed their government was broken, however there was also an opportunity for businesses to stand up for the public on issues they believed were not being addressed.

“Corporate Australia’s strong and unified support for the marriage equality campaign demonstrated the institution’s ability to be a driver of societal change, and may have raised public expectations for future advocacy,” he said.

“With trust in institutions continuing to fall, and Australians now increasingly sceptical about the views of their peers, they are instead putting their faith in credible individuals.

“The resurgence in credibility of CEOs, directors and experts is stark, however Australians are not just looking for these leaders to communicate and represent their organisation’s interests, but to advocate for, and lead on, broader societal issues.”

Despite trust in every sector declining, the Trust Barometer revealed a strong resurgence in credibility of individual voices of authority with CEOs, journalists and boards of directors recording double-digit increases in credibility.

Moreover 65 per cent of Australians said CEOs should take the lead on change rather than wait for government to impose it.

Spurr said the data showed the Australian public expected business to do good.

“I think that is because of the year that we’ve seen with obviously Alan Joyce and Qantas looking and really supporting marriage equality, but it is not just been about marriage equality, we’ve had people standing up and talking about other issues such as power issues in South Australia, with Latvian and Tesla, and Fortescue’s chief talking about modern slavery and the need to ensure that that doesn’t exist, so some of them maybe have less profile, because it wasn’t as publicised,  I think there is a push and there is a sea change in Australian CEOs to really understand their license, not to operate, but ultimately their license to exist stands on the need for them to be good citizens in the community as well as good practitioners of their businesses,” he said.

“I think last year we really saw early signs that the Australian public expect businesses to do more than just look after their own commercial imperatives and this year that desire from the Australian public is deepened and has moved more markedly to the CEO as the figurehead who has the ability to make those changes.

“The real imperative from the Australian public right now is tell me you are one of the good guys and I will support you, buy your products and your services.”

Spurr said overall he believed Australia could correct the trajectory it was on.

“So if I was to get my crystal ball out, I think that we are soft landing to a low point,” he said.

“I think if this government can start governing for the people rather than looking at themselves and business can be active participants in the community beyond their money making imperatives and if NGOs can really show that they are independent and they are fixing those mandates that Australian society wants, I actually think we will start to see lifts.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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