New polling data from NPC and Ipsos MORI suggests a significant minority of the public lack trust and confidence in charities. In ‘Matter of Trust’ it is claimed that ‘over one in three people have doubts over charities’, whilst only one in five say they have high levels of trust.
I don’t want to get too hung up on this, as there are many other interesting findings in the report, but it’s worth looking briefly at how this figure has been calculated. Respondents were asked to give a score from 1 to 10 to express how much trust they had in charities. Low levels of confidence – the ‘more than one in three’ figure – is derived from scores of 0-5, the high level is made up of scores from 8-10 and medium is just scores of 6 and 7 (see figure 1 below).
If the distribution of these categories had been more even, for example if low was scores 0-4, medium 5-7 and high remained 8-10, the picture would have changed considerably. The figure for low levels of trust would fall to one in five (21%) – less than the 24% with high levels of trust.
There’s no doubting the data, but how it’s presented is open to considerable interpretation. Perhaps a headline of ‘one in three don’t trust charities’ is more attractive than ‘most people have middle of the road opinions’ but that’s not necessarily what the data says.
A quick twitter conversation with Ben Page from Ipsos MORI suggests this is fairly standard in customer satisfaction surveys apparently. [Thanks for setting me straight Ben…though it does strike me as slightly odd…hey ho]
Anyway…far more interesting are the findings on what people think charities are like. Two thirds think charities are large organisations and around 80% think they are national and international organisations. The reality is, of course, that the vast majority of charities (even without including the huge numbers of community groups that are not registered as charities and which therefore ‘fall below the radar’ here) are small and local.
Interestingly the more people associate charities as small and local the higher the levels of trust they have about them. Similarly the more people know about charity the higher the level of confidence they expressed. However the report does point out that this is not universally the case as there is a minority of people who say they know a lot about charity but have low levels of trust.
Given the domination of media coverage and profile of a small number of vast charities, it is perhaps unsurprising that the public should perceive these to be the norm. However the findings from this research suggest that perhaps it is not in the wider interests of the largest charities to be so dominant if it is undermining public trust in the perception of charities as a whole.
The findings should give food for thought to the larger charities about their approach to marketing and communications. Perhaps some might consider whether rather than focussing their communications on their own brand awareness and profile, their broader interests and those of their beneficiaries would be better served by supporting smaller charities. Assisting small, local charities to share the media spotlight might serve to strengthen public perceptions of charity that can only be good news for the people they serve.