Public Perception and Charity Reality – Gap

You may have seen the new poll released by the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO). It shows a scary gap between the public’s understanding of charities and the reality. ACEVO believes this could lead to an erosion of trust and confidence in ‘the special relationship’ the public has with charities.

ACEVO believes that charities need to have a much more honest relationship with the public and it is calling on the sector to become more accountable and transparent to prevent an erosion of public confidence.

ACEVO is, as a result, leading a coalition of 240 charities and trade bodies to draw up a ‘transparency manifesto’ which it will urge all charities to sign-up to. It will also seek the backing of the Charity Commission.

ACEVO’s key public survey findings are:

• Nearly 50% think there are less than 70,000 registered charities in England and Wales. Only 16% identified the right ballpark figure of over 170,000

• 77% of respondents were unable to correctly identify the right bracket of the number of people working in the charity sector as between 500,000 and 750,000

• On average charities spend 12.5% on their overheads. Only 20% of the public got this figure in the right ballpark. 61% of the public thought they spent more than 20% on overheads

• 52% estimated that the total annual income for charities was less than £20 billion – it is in fact more than £30 billion

• Only 16% were in the right ballpark on the average income charities receive from government as government grants, income and loans. Charities receive £11.5 billion from government

I agree with ACEVO’s viewpoint that charities need to be more transparent. We can’t blame the public for their perceptions  if we dont commuicate with them properly.

There was a post on the Bluefrog Creative Blog this week with a similar theme, called Why do people think charities waste money? Because we don’t prove them wrong? They made the point that:

Whenever we work with charities on recruitment pieces, we encourage them to use the basic statistic of how many pence in the pound go on ‘real work’.

You’d be surprised how many are reluctant to do so. When asked why, some point out that another charity has a better statistic. But by that, they may mean only one or two pence more are spent in the ways that are easiest to justify to a supporter.

It’s a great shame if a charity doesn’t share their figures on the basis of just one or two per cent.

We kind of only have ourselves to blame


2 thoughts on “Public Perception and Charity Reality – Gap

  1. Conor, many thanks as always for picking up on these interesting insights and making it so much easier for us!
    This perception / reality gap has been a big concern of mine ever since I first got to work behind the scenes in a charity. I agree that charities need to be more transparent, and I agree that the public can’t be blamed if we don’t communicate properly.
    However I think it is asking a lot for members of the public, who are not generally directly involved in such organisations, to accurately ‘gross up’ the size and scale of charitable activity at a sectoral level. My guess is they’d probably get nowhere near the ball park if doing this for others sectors too…

    What I think could be most interesting is if they were asked for their perceptions of those same questions in relation to Charity A (Large international development NGO), Charity B (nationally known homeless organisation and so on.

    As reflected by the Blue Frog piece on organisations’ reluctance to enable comparisons on admin – the probable reason for the information gap is that individual organisations don’t want to elicit unwanted attention to percentages that may generate ill informed and unfair comparisons.

    And isnt it interesting that this is the case in the UK where, one might have thought the facts of (a) various sector level representative organisations and (b) long term charity regulation might have helped to address these issues at a sectoral level.

    Oh dear!

  2. Siobhan………thanks for those comments, i think your point about perceptions of different types of organisation or scale would be great to see.

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