How can we increase public trust in charities? Insights from a charity leader
In this guest article, Rod Buckley, Director of the Rapid Relief Team, reveals how to strengthen trust in charitable organisations.
Research by the Charity Commission has recently shown that public trust in charities has remained relatively stable for the third year in a row, with an average of 6.3 out of 10. While charities’ work throughout the pandemic and the rising cost of living has helped boost confidence in the sector, negative perceptions caused by old scandals endure. Building and maintaining public trust is vital for charities to be able to achieve their goals, as well as to gain supporters and recruit and retain volunteers.
As a leader of the Rapid Relief Team UK (RRT), a charity run by members of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, for the past ten years, I understand the power of public trust in charities. Leaders must not become complacent and remain alive to the value of public trust, and the risks of failing to sustain it.
Informed by my experience over the last decade, here I share three core lessons which have enabled the RRT to maintain public trust and helped us achieve our purpose of delivering practical support to emergency services, charities, and other organisations on the frontline of emergencies and critical situations.
Be embedded in your local community
It will not come as a surprise that people will be more likely to trust charities if they can see them in action first-hand. When a charity’s members and volunteers are embedded in their local community, this makes the great impact that their charitable work is having visible and makes it easier for people to understand and have confidence in the day-to-day operations of the organisation.
While the RRT has a network of over 14,500 volunteers around the world, all maintain strong connections with their neighbours and have intimate knowledge of the problems faced at a local level. This allows us to intervene and respond to unique local challenges, giving us the chance to prove our worth to the communities we serve and gain their trust.
For instance, one of our volunteers in Devon was quick to act when a fellow resident was in urgent need of medical equipment and local healthcare providers could not accommodate his needs. Putting compassion into action, the RRT took rapid action, and we provided the necessary equipment within a few days, demonstrating the value we bring in our communities and solidifying trust in our commitment to be a force for good.
Charities depend on people’s goodwill, and we should never take the donations we receive for granted. What is more, the public must feel confident that the money they give to charity will be going towards the cause it supports. This means that charities must be transparent about how their funds are spent and ensure that the highest possible amount reaches those in need.
We always make sure that 80% of our funding goes directly to those we support, and we are open and honest about how we manage our income. We have even gone beyond this target, using 100% of donations to help people in crisis, covering all admin costs of aid delivery ourselves. This was the case for Operation 322 – our humanitarian relief effort in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Thanks to the trust that our members have in our work and mission, we managed to raise £250,000 in less than 24 hours after the crisis started, and all the proceeds went directly towards delivering emergency aid and Food Boxes to Ukrainians fleeing the conflict.
In a time where personal finances are increasingly squeezed by rising costs of living, charities need to demonstrate prudent stewardship of their funds and make clear the link between the money they receive and the positive impact they have in our society.
Finally, people trust figures with an established reputation, and the public will have increased confidence in charities that work in collaboration with experts to ensure best practice. While charities operate in numerous sectors and volunteers and members of staff might not be trained in all of them, establishing strong working partnerships with experts will help demonstrate a charity’s commitment to getting things right.
For instance, when crisis struck in Ukraine, we knew that we needed to act quickly, even though this was outside of our usual scope of work. We reached out to other charities and organisations which specialise in international aid delivery, such as USAID, to make sure that we were following the most up-to-date guidance. This has allowed us to not only deliver over 3 million meals to Ukrainians in crisis but has also helped build trust and confidence in our ability to help those in need.
Demand for charitable services is at an all-time high, and thousands of charities and volunteers across the country are working tirelessly to help those who are most vulnerable. As charity leaders, we need to ensure that the public is aware of our achievements and, most importantly, that they have confidence in our ability to be a force for good.