The Charities Commission’s Trust in Charities 2018 makes for sobering reading. The public’s faith in charitable organisations is at an all time low of 5.5 out of 10.
The report highlights that charities generate more trust than MPs, banks or local councils – but these are far from ideal entities to benchmark against.
In fact, people have less trust for a UK charity than they have in a stranger in the street: this is deeply worrying. It should be seen as a real shot across the bow for the charity sector.
Change must come from the top
The responsibility sits squarely with leadership. It sits with every charity board and, accordingly, with the Trustees.
The fact is that they are so named because it is their job to engender trust. Historically, a Trustee was an individual regarded as being sufficiently honourable as to hold onto the assets being given by a benefactor to a beneficiary.
There are three areas, I believe, that Trustees should focus on to help restore the sector’s reputation.
Remuneration, governance and positivity
The first is Remuneration. To address the negative perceptions about CEO and Director pay, all charities should be open and honest about how remuneration is set. At the least this should be part of the annual report and accounts along with details of pay ratios.
The negative view of pay is largely unfounded, especially in comparison against corporates of similar size and responsibility. Openness about it should therefore reduce the stigma.
Governance should be the second area of focus. Every charity needs a robust governance structure that actively seeks diversity. It’s essential to appoint people from a broad range of industry sectors and backgrounds that will provide real challenge and direction to the Board.
Finally, charities should seek to achieve greater balance within the news agenda. Part of the issue in recent months is that charities are having to react to negative news stories, in place of sharing the positives – how their work contributes to improving society and the important milestones of change in their respective spaces.
I know from my own dealings with the charitable sector that the good far outweighs the bad. The trust crisis today is undeserved and we must turn it around.