Have charities become the bad guys?

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With public scrutiny higher than it’s ever been, and charities too often failing to live up to it, has our emotional bond with charities been lost forever?

What you get back when you give to charity is a feeling, not a product or service.

Once upon a time we lived in a simpler world. People knew their neighbours; they believed what they heard in the news; and charities were most definitely treated with affection, and seen as a ‘force for good’ in society.

But today nothing and no-one gets by unscrutinised. Whilst the charity sector has gone through decades of ‘professionalisation’ it seems something crucial has been eroded: public trust and affection.

Gone too, are the days where there was clear water between corporate and charitable brands. Now the public often struggle to tell the two apart, with 70% of respondents in our recent survey telling us charities are “as likely to behave as badly as a big business”.

This presents a major threat to charities. More often than not when donating, what you get in return is a feeling, not a product or service you can judge on its own grounds. So if that emotional connection is broken, arguably the entire business model of longstanding charities is undermined.

This is further reinforced by research undertaken by Populus and the Charity Commission itself. In the foreword to their 2018 report “Trust in Charities” they explicitly state: “we know that trust affects the public’s willingness to support charities, particularly in terms of becoming long-term supporters and volunteers”.

So what can charities do – not just to restore trust, but to re-establish the deeper, emotional connections between themselves, their supporters, and the wider public? Can it be achieved through the medium of branding and communications, or does this challenge demand a more fundamental re-think in the very business models which the sector has long taken for granted?

Read on for more detailed findings, or skip ahead to read our thoughts and recommendations

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