For years, ‘it’s for charity’ has been a very handy phrase, the perfect get-out clause for repentant celebs, globe-trotting challenge-seekers and owners of ice buckets alike. But if the findings of NPC’s recent poll with Ipsos MORI are anything to go by, this phrase may no longer be quite the convenient deflection it once was.

That is because the public may be starting to question the unquestionable. A recent online poll commissioned by NPC (and following our earlier Mind the gap research) shows that more than 1 in 3 people have doubts about charities (even if they still enjoy a decent trust score on average). The more the public associates charities with large, political organisations, the less they trust them. There is also a substantial chunk of the public, 1 in 5, who say they know little or nothing about charities and have little trust in them. This group seems to have rejected charities entirely.

So far, so disheartening perhaps. But a closer look at the research shows that things are not all bad. Indeed, according to this polling by the Charity Commission in the summer, charities enjoy higher levels of trust than other groups (only doctors and the police  score higher than charities). However, there is an indication that charities are beginning to be lumped together with the Establishment–that the sector is becoming associated with ‘the chattering classes’.

For large and international charities especially, public mistrust is likely to be a problem. For the majority of people (67%), charities summon up images of large organisations—and levels of trust in charities as a whole is lower for them than for the 25% who think mostly of small organisations.

Three in four (76%) said they favoured charities that stayed away from politics, and 73% preferred charities that received most of their money from the public. A smaller chunk of the population would still prefer to give to charities involved in politics (8%) and awareness raising (14%)—illustrating, perhaps, that the diversity of the sector is mirrored by a diversity of opinions about its role.

For the public, it turns out, there is no one ‘charity’. And for charities, there is no one ‘public’.

So does more knowledge of charities go hand-in-hand with higher levels of trust? While the two are linked, this is not a given. Alongside those who reject charities completely, there are a range of perspectives. We divided the public into four segments:

  • informed enthusiasts (35% of the population)
  • uninformed enthusiasts (26%)
  • uninformed detractors (20%)
  • informed detractors (15%).

We look forward to sharing more details in the coming months, as we have the chance to analyse the data further. In the meantime, it looks as though the ability of charities to answer questions about their activities and their spending—whether these are questions posed by politicians, the media or members of the public—is becoming more and more important.

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