Rebuilding trust in charities

The Charity Commission confirmed last week what many had been feeling: public trust in charities is at an all-time low. Worrying. But don't panic. You can impact report your way to the top of the trust tree.

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 11.57.02
Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 11.57.02

Earn trust

As both a charity trustee and someone who works on brand, strategy and communications, my eyes are always peeled for the opportunity buried in the bad news.

As the Chair of the Charity Commission wrote recently, you need to earn the right to be heard again. Their Policy and Communications Director points out you need to act now before it impacts your financial position.

The good news is there are ways to start earning trust without having to fundamentally alter your operations or culture.

Communications opportunity

Opportunity lies in communicating impact. More than just measuring your impact, impactfully communicating it is a great route to building trust in your organisation.

The Charity Commission’s research highlights 5 key drivers for trust in charities. How you communicate your impact can significantly improve your performance on 4 out of 5.

FLF Spread 1
FLF Spread 1

Some charities will have a fully worked out communications strategy, others may not. In either case, I want to focus on annual reports (and for larger charities, a range of impact reports) as a key tool for these 4 drivers.

(1) Ensuring donations make it to the end cause

People want to know a reasonable amount of what they give goes to the cause you represent. There are direct and indirect ways of communicating this through your reporting. Graphics showing how you spend and what it achieves really grab attention. Overall, having an engaging and comprehensive report promotes the feeling that you are transparent and gives confidence to people that they know donations are well spent.

(2) Being well managed

There’s no getting round it – people are used to sophisticated corporate communications. Adopting their methods and learning to adapt their verbal and visual language makes people think you know what you are doing. Practically, being able to intelligently display and explain your impact demonstrates competence.

(3) Making independent decisions to further the cause

Frequent, open and comprehensive reporting on strategy and performance displays willingness to be held to account for your decisions. It should, depending on your actions, also directly explain exactly the decisions made and how you came to them. Being able to clearly illustrate how this flows through to real impact furthering the cause you work for is key.

(4) Making a positive difference to the cause

This is where impact reporting has its most obvious benefit. In corporate speak, people need reasons to believe that you are making a positive difference. We can no longer rely on a combination of good intentions and vague descriptions to ask people to fill in the gaps. Your reports are the perfect opportunity to weave a rich tapestry of data and stories into a compelling reason to believe you’re making a difference.

You can do this

Take a look at how corporates approach their annual, financial and sustainability reporting. It’s not about copying them, but about adapting the approach to convey what you are about, backed by evidence, in the most visually compelling expression of your brand possible.

I work on strategy and reporting for both corporates and charities. In my experience, many charities are falling short of what corporates, funding bodies and the public expect in how they communicate.

Larger charities often appear too corporate, unwittingly playing into public perceptions of a hard sell. Small and medium-sized charities communications are often visually difficult, don’t tell a compelling story and struggle to engage peoples’ attention.

However, I’ve also seen charities build their story, strategy and metrics, and get them out there in ways people love.

Get it right and get people to fall back in love with what you do.

Adam Blue Steel Crop
Adam Blue Steel Crop

Adam Papaphilippopoulos

Partner, Reluctantly Brave

Trustee, First Love Foundation