Public sceptical of charities' role in delivering services

Derren Hayes
Thursday, March 6, 2014

Nearly a quarter of the public believe charities are becoming too involved in delivering state services, research by a think-tank shows.

29 per cent of the public surveyed said charities put too much pressure on people to donate.
29 per cent of the public surveyed said charities put too much pressure on people to donate.

Of the 1,035 UK adults surveyed in January for a report by New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), 23 per cent said that delivering public services that “should” be delivered by the state is one of the main things charities are doing wrong.

The NPC study was carried out in response to media and political criticism of charities' roles that arose during the debate on the Lobbying Bill, and highlights issues pertinent to the children's voluntary sector including service provision, executive pay and fundraising practices.

The survey shows that Labour Party supporters, those working in the public sector and the middle-aged are the groups most concerned about charities becoming public service providers.

When asked to describe the purpose of charities, just 11 per cent of respondents identified running a service that is currently run by the state – the lowest score for any category. In addition, 16 per cent thought running services was something charities spent most of their time doing.

By comparison, survey respondents identified helping communities (56 per cent), raising money for good causes (51 per cent), raising awareness of issues (47 per cent) and encouraging volunteering (44 per cent) as the things they wanted to see charities focus on.

NPC said the findings indicate there is a section of the population that thinks charities should be about “providing information and advice” whereas “providing services including care homes, social housing and schools should still be the domain of public authorities”.

The Mind the Gap report also highlights the difference between the public’s perception and the reality on how much charity leaders are paid.

Spending too much money on executive salaries was identified as the main thing charities are doing wrong, with 42 per cent of those polled highlighting this as their top concern. The same proportion said charity chief executives should be paid less than an MP (£66,000 annually), while 28 per cent thought there should be parity between the two. A further 16 per cent said charity chiefs should be paid nothing.

However, NPC says the average salary of a charity chief is £60,000, with the median being £35,000.

Other issues the public are concerned about include lack of transparency on how money is spent (36 per cent), spending too much on overseas' work (29 per cent) and putting too much pressure on people to donate (29 per cent).

To address public mistrust, NFP says the voluntary sector as a whole needs to become more transparent about how it spends money, including being open about justifying chief executives' pay, and explain about its changing role in being trusted to deliver good quality public services.

The research was carried out to assess whether recent negative media coverage of charities’ lobbying role and spending decisions had impacted on public trust. In fact, the study showed that over the past three years people had become more positive towards charities.

NPC chief executive Dan Corry said: “Not all charities are perfect and the sector must be open about this, but many of the comments made about the sector are unfair and misleading. If the sector can work together, it will be in a stronger position to withstand any erosion of trust it might yet suffer should the attacks by the press and MPs continue.”

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