Charities: A question of trust


In an age where the public trust their personal data to online platforms, it would lead us to believe that a charity contributing its time and money into fundraising for various causes around the world could easily gain their trust. However research conducted by Populus on behalf of the Charity Commission this year, showed this was far from the case.

From the report, research showed that the overall level of trust and confidence in charities has fallen to 5.7 out of 10. Whether this is down to negative stories in the media about donation spend or lack of transparency within a charity, it is a significant decrease from the figure of 6.7 in 2012 and 2014.

84% of consumers globally said that they seek out responsible products whenever possible. If brands selling ethical products can gain the trust of consumers, why are people less willing to trust charities and what can be done to change this?


One important statistic from the research found that familiarity and connections to a particular cause proved to be important when the public chose which charities to trust; something that is becoming easier to do in the digital age through the use of unique campaigns, but only if they are executed authentically and effectively.

For the International Day of Charity, Marmalade spoke with Vicky Browning, Director of CharityComms, to find out more about the relationship between the public and charities, and how digital content & partnerships with creative agencies could potentially become a significant factor in helping to address negative public sentiment.

There have been several reports about trust of charities falling over the last few years – how have charities responded to this?

Levels of public trust in charities do fluctuate, but whatever the specific state of trust is at any given time, it’s not a subject charities can be complacent about or ignore. We have a unique position within our society and if the trust between the charity and supporter is undermined, it’s very significant. Parts of the public feel some charities have crossed the line between professionalism and corporatism and that has sat uncomfortably with some people. The whole issue has been a wake up call for the sector and we recognise that we can’t take the public’s trust for granted. I’ve seen levels of co-operation between charities working together to tackle this issue that I’ve not seen before, which is brilliant.

Charities have to be more proactive about demonstrating why we’re here and why what we do matters, to gain back any lost trust.

Fundamentally we need to be thinking about the supporter, about the people at the heart of this, switching from an organisational perspective to an audience perspective.

With so many people asking ‘where is the money going?’, what can charities do to clarify or justify their spend?

The main way charities are tackling this is by being better at showing the effect of the work they’re doing, with the money they’re gven. This is a key factor – transparency. We want to be able to allow people to see the inner workings of how we operate. Especially now, in our digital era, people want to know about how things are working and what difference their money is making. Most charities are actually doing pretty difficult, important work; we need good people with experience to deliver things effectively, which is why we need to employ experienced, paid professionals alongside all the volunteers who give their time.

The charity sector is well regulated and we haven’t been very good at explaining that. Having transparency woul clear up a lot of questions currently being asked.

How important is emotive content in helping to foster stronger relationships between the public and the charity?

People trust the brands that they know. Content that is front of mind is a large factor in trust.

If you’ve heard of a brand, you’re more likely to trust it. By sharing content that connects with the cause and the public, charities are one step closer to gaining public trust. Anything that brings us back to connecting better with our supporters, as well as our beneficiaries, has got to be good for everyone. Making sure that we are connecting and engaging with supporters has become a major focus for charities.

Three key factors that can make a successful connection between a charity and their audience are the connection to the cause, engagement with the audience and telling a compelling story.

The internet has been host to many viral fundraising campaigns such as ’22 push ups’ and ‘Find Mike’. Do you think charities should invest more time into creating unique marketing campaigns to raise awarenesss of their cause more effectively?

Yes, they can be more effective in raising awareness, but they need to be underpinned by audience insight, truth and authenticity. The best ones succeed because of a complete understanding of the people they are trying to reach – a lot of these campaigns work when they have a really strong connection to the cause. I think it’s an opportunity for all charities to try and achieve transparency, openness and good communication, which applies whatever the size of the charity. Charities generally place a lot of value on a good marketing campaigns and most really understand the value of brand and how comms and marketing a brand are core to keeping awareness and understanding.

It’s not a vanity spend, it is central to being able to deliver their charitable goals.

How do you think creative agencies can partner with charities to create emotive content and help make their voice heard?

Working with a creative agency is a substantial opportunity for all charities, and there is real value in the relationship between the two. Creative agencies can be very effective in helping charities align creative ideas with those deeper insights and understanding. Creatives come in with the sparks and the ideas, teaming that with the comms knowledge of who the audience is and what motivates them.

A brilliant idea won’t cut the mustard if it isn’t rooted in something that resonates with authenticity.

Marmalade Film & Media work with Plan UK to create an awareness film for FGM, “#FGMrose”

Marmalade Film & Media work with Plan UK to create an awareness film for FGM, “#FGMrose”

What can charities do to make sure that the public have the right knowledge of their key mission and purpose?

Make the most of the digital environment. People want to ask questions and have them answered and that’s a fantastic opportunity for charities, but something we have to adjust to. Charities used to be broadcasters, telling people what we were doing. Now we’re able to have real-time conversations and that’s a different relationship, offering opportunities as well as challenges. I think one of the biggest weaknesses many charities have is that a lot of the cause areas they are working in are so complicated, they try and do everything.

Trying to cover all the bases in all areas can dilute the message. Focusing on consolidating and identifying where charities can make the most difference will help build an effective understanding of each charity’s mission and purpose.

In response to the concerns about a decrease in public trust within the sector, CharityComms and its partners have come together to create a brand narrative for all charities to use. It sets out a narrative framework for how charities talk to the public about modern charities, telling a story about people making a difference, how charities harness people’s goodwill and combine it with their professional expertise and vision to create the biggest possible impact. The hope is to help people feel confident in the way charities work. The next steps? A communications toolkit for charities to use when speaking to the media on behalf of the sector and a public facing website explaining how charities work.

Marmalade works with some of the worlds leading global NGOs and brand charity partnerships. To see how we help them create impact with their audiences visit our Case Studies page.

References - Public Trust & Confidence in Charities - Consumer Study - Global Trust in Advertising

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