Mind the gap: what the public thinks about charities

This paper explores whether recent attacks on charities from politicians and the media have adversely affected the public’s attitude to the sector, based on the results of a poll carried out by Ipsos MORI.

Polling with Ipsos MORI (January 2014)

Over the past year, charities have been variously criticised by politicians, media commentators and philanthropists for high CEO pay, unprofessionalism and lack of transparency.

At NPC we strive to help charities and funders be as effective as possible, so that their efforts go further for the people and the causes they serve. For this reason, we were keen to better understand how the public feels about the sector they support as donors, volunteers and taxpayers, and to understand the effect—if any—of this negative media coverage on their perceptions.

In this paper we present the findings of a poll carried out by Ipsos MORI in January 2014, with a representative sample of more than 1,000 adults from across Great Britain. It is divided into three sections: general attitudes towards charities and their role; views on key issues such as lobbying, fundraising and executive pay; and ideas on how charities should respond.

Key findings

  • A third (32%) of the public say that their views towards charities have become more positive in the last three years, compared with almost a quarter (23%) who have become more negative.
  • The top five concerns people have about charities are that they spend too much on executive pay (42%), are not transparent enough about their spending (36%) and spend too much abroad (29%), put pressure on people to donate (29%), and spend too much on running costs (26%).
  • 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%) think that charities should be helping communities but just a third (35%) think they spend their time doing this. Conversely, 51% think that they should be raising money for good causes compared with 55% who feel that they spend their time on this.
  • Half of people (47%) say they pay attention to evidence that an organisation is having an impact when making a donation, including one in ten (9%) who say that they pay ‘extremely close attention’ to understanding the difference an organisation makes.

How should the sector respond?

Having a clearer picture of what the public thinks is a good starting point for the sector to consider how to respond, individually and collectively. 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. The Charity Commission also has a vital role in reassuring the public about the high standards that the sector is required to abide by.

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