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Report Finds UK Supports Charities… But Don’t Really ‘Get’ What They Do

Mon May 04 2020

A recently released report has found the UK public has a “low and arguably uninformed” opinion of the charitable sector, dating back at least 70 years.

The study, titled Sceptical Yet Supportive: Understanding Public Attitudes to Charity, by academics Beth Breeze and John Mohan from the Universities of Kent and Birmingham states that whilst the public is generally very supportive of the not-for-profit sector, they have a “low and arguably uninformed' opinion of what charities actually do.


The report found that if charitable organisations wanted to increase levels of support for their chosen cause then post COVID-19 they needed to educate the general public as to what they do and why.


The authors of the report state that this situation has existed for at least 70 years, since the founding of the UK’s welfare state, with the not-for-profit sector relying on, what they call a “sceptical but supportive public”.


They released the report with a statement that read:

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Levels of charitable giving have shown considerable stability, suggesting that there is sustained popular support for donating. Long-run trends show that the proportion of households giving to charity, and the amounts they give, fluctuate very little

John Mohan, University of Birmingham

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However, whilst the general public’s generosity is to be lauded, they raise the fact that a growing trend, that the coronavirus crisis may bring even more into focus, is that there’s an underlying concern by the public as to how charities are operated.

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During the 2020 COVID-19 crisis there has been an unprecedentedly high response to fundraising efforts for NHS charities, notably that organised by 99-year-old war veteran Tom Moore. Despite evident public generosity, there are ongoing debates about the ‘right role’ for charity in relation to state provision as well as concerns about ‘poor practice’ in UK charities, often fuelled by media coverage.

Sceptical Yet Supportive: Understanding Public Attitudes to Charity

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The report goes on to state that whilst the non-profit sector needs to do more in providing an evidence-based response to these public criticisms, politicians, policymakers and regulators need to take a much more active role in supporting the sector, avoiding ‘cheap shots’ for media soundbites.

 “Ideological criticisms and often evidence-free assertions about fundraising techniques, high salaries or administrative costs” weren’t helping to promote public trust within the sector.

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When influential people are ‘sticking the boot into charity’ – whether they be senior political figures, current and former chairs of the Charity Commission or newspaper editors – this hardly seems likely to stimulate public support.

Sceptical Yet Supportive: Understanding Public Attitudes to Charity

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Given the global fall in fundraising income caused by the coronavirus crisis, it would be more important than ever to avoid “unnecessary and unfair reputational harm” the authors found.

Instead, they state that given the level of cross-party support for the voluntary sector shown by government bodies and representatives during the crisis, a more proactive role in countering harmful myths and explaining why charities need to spend money on overheads and fundraising should be taken by these individuals and bodies whilst also highlighting when and where charities have a real and significant impact:

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Charities are often subject to vigorous criticism and very negative newspaper headlines. As with previous crises, it is likely that current support will soon turn into criticism – for example, of how quickly the funding is spent and on what. We hope this research helps to provide some context that these concerns are long-standing and that we all need to better appreciate the reality of how charitable income is raised and distributed.

Beth Breeze, University of Kent

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Mon May 04 2020

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