We must work together to improve understanding of charities and maintain public support

Vicky Browning, Director, CharityComms

Charities have a fantastic relationship with the public.

But – as the recent slew of high profile media stories show – we can’t take this for granted.

Issues such as fundraising methods, levels of executive pay, the rights of charities to campaign and concern about administration costs affect the way charities are perceived by the public.

We’re being asked questions by the public – and we must respond.

But we have to go further, and come together as a sector to work to improve understanding of modern charities and how they operate. We must do this both in terms of the overall contribution of charities to the fabric of life in the UK, and more specific areas around how charities actually work.

What is the Understanding Charities Group?

We’re a group of charity sector people – from big and small charities, umbrella groups and agencies – committed to getting something done.

We see this as an opportunity to get on the front foot: to be proactive as well as reactive; to be positive about charities’ unique and invaluable contribution to the fabric of the UK’s society, not defensive.

Our group is coordinated by CharityComms and NCVO.

What’s happened so far?

We’ve met a number of times since October 2014.

We’ve been coming at the issue from a number of angles. We have thought robustly about the problem and where the solutions lie.

It’s clear from the data out there that support and trust in charities is built on a complicated set of interlinked factors.

We have developed a theory of how we can secure sustainable trust in charities. It’s multi-faceted but we have the building blocks for change. Part of it involves transparency, more and better information about how we work and what we achieve; part of it involves engaging on an emotional level.

It starts with better evidence and engagement, and improving our ability to shape our stories and live up to high standards. If we do this then we will be able to tell better, stronger stories which will have an impact on our visibility and profile. This should generate knowledge and understanding, trust and confidence.

You can download our theory of change here: Understanding Charities Group theory of change

In the end we hope charities will be even more valued and appreciated, better supported and more sustainable.

What next?

We don’t have all the answers yet – but we’re starting with a number of specific activities – including constructing a narrative for the sector, ways to support charities to avoid being the subject of criticism or to respond effectively to it, and looking at new ways to engage with journalists.

This is a big discussion – we want to keep hearing from charities about their view of the public’s understanding of the sector.

If you’d like to be added to our database to receive updates on our work, or want to get involved, please email me on vicky@charitycomms.org.uk