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Research insights

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Our research with the public identified some clear key insights into what charities need to do to help restore public trust. These have been used to help develop key messages about charities, and the responses to critical questions section later in this guide.
  1. Acknowledge concerns
  2. Be transparent in a proactive, accessible way
  3. Give examples of behavioural change
  4. Demonstrate collective impact
  5. Don’t use facts and figures to make your case
  6. Use simple, personable language, not ‘management speak’

1. Acknowledge concerns

The research identified a series of concerns about charities. These include:

  • excessive executive pay
  • questions around how much of people’s donation goes on frontline services
  • the impact of the charity and the perceived lack of progress on its given issue area
  • fundraising methods which are aggressive, invasive or exploitative

On some issues, such as fundraising methods, concerns had been created through personal experience. Almost everyone who participated in the focus groups had a negative experience with charity fundraising that they saw as aggressive, invasive, exploitative, or all three. Recent media coverage has therefore confirmed these concerns, rather than created them. Our research found that charity supporters were particularly frustrated by what they saw as poor behaviour by charities. Admitting mistakes is crucial to earning a hearing from these audiences.

It’s important that concerns are acknowledged and addressed before trying to engage audiences with narrative about the positive role charities play. You need to show that you ‘get it’.

Adopting a defensive tone or failing to acknowledge concerns will turn audiences off.

2. Be transparent in a proactive, accessible way

The public have strongly voiced concerns about how their money is being spent, specifically how much of it is spent ‘on the front line’ versus what they have come to perceive as grandiose offices, large expense accounts and excessive senior salaries. Underlying this is a deeper concern about the impact charities are really having. Charity supporters and non-supporters alike are concerned that charities are not making a difference, and accusations that charities are not transparent are one manifestation of this.

Charities need to reassure the public that transparency is a core priority for them and then back this up with tangible steps to demonstrate this.

Ultimately, our key audiences want to see charities be far more proactive and open about how they operate. Publication of charity accounts is not enough – information needs to be presented prominently and accessibly, using simple diagrams or pie charts.

3. Give examples of behavioural change

Where possible, provide examples of changes you’ve made in areas the public are concerned about. This demonstrates that you are not trying to ‘spin’ your way through a problem, but you fully understand and are prepared to make concrete changes.

4. Demonstrate collective impact

Negative media coverage tarnishes the sector as a whole, potentially more so than the individual charities any piece of coverage names. We should make use of any opportunities to make a positive case about the role and achievements of the sector. It’s in all our interests to reinforce positive messages about the charity sector.

5. Don’t just rely on facts and figures to make your case

Time and time again, what we feel are ‘killer stats’ fall flat with the public – an insight re-confirmed during this research. Statistics are distrusted and picked apart, particularly if they run counter to someone’s existing point of view. Bringing to life what you are saying with examples or case studies has far more impact.

Where you do use statistics, do so sparingly and in a simple way that relates directly to the impact on people’s lives.

6. Use simple, personable language, not ‘management speak’

A clear message from the research was that verbose or complex phrases do not resonate well. They can be confusing and they also create a sense of distance, speaking to the idea of charities as big businesses, out of touch with charity values. Language should always be as clear and as simple as possible, written as you would say it to a friend. Using a warm and understanding tone works better than cold, defensive language.

Page last edited Sep 11, 2017

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