Over the past two years, the Charity Commission has conducted several research studies among the public and charity trustees, involving many thousands of people drawn from all parts of the population and the charitable sector.
This report draws together the main findings of that research to offer a better understanding of:
- the public in whose interest the Charity Commission regulates
- the views of trustees
- the contemporary world in which everyone must operate
Introduction to the report
These are challenging times for the country and the wider world. They have shown among other things both the power of Charity and its essential fragility. Charities help harness our generosity and goodwill for the benefit of others and they in turn rely on the support we give them in small and myriad ways as we go about our daily lives. Disrupt that support and many charities very quickly become vulnerable.
As the regulator of the charitable sector, part of the Charity Commission’s job is to help make Charity more resilient; to ensure that it can thrive and inspire trust in tough times as well as good, and to do so in a world where the demands for greater scrutiny and accountability sit side-by-side with calls for charities to do more and be more. Building resilience means upholding the special status of Charity and recognising that the regulator and the regulated both have a responsibility to justify the privileges enjoyed in its name.
For the Charity Commission increasing resilience also means bringing the public interest to the fore. We have set out to be more responsive and inclusive in the way we listen and respond to different parts of the public, including volunteers and charity supporters up and down the country.
Public opinion is not monolithic. People’s circumstances and outlook on life often vary greatly and these variations have a large influence over their views about Charity and charities. There are though common themes which transcend those differences in background:
- the fact that the way charities go about their work is as important as the work that they do
- that all charities share a collective responsibility to uphold the reputation of Charity more widely
- registered charity status brings with it in the public mind a level of reassurance about conduct, efficiency and impact.
When expectations are as widely held as these in a society which has been so divided in many other ways, they demand respect. So, it is encouraging that most trustees the Commission has surveyed say they understand and take such expectations seriously.
The report explores the relationship between the public’s view of Charity and charities and the role of regulation; and trustees’ views of public expectations and of the Commission. It is published here in the belief that a better understanding of the public will lead to a more informed discussion about how best to regulate in their interest in future. If charity is to be a unifying force in a sometimes divided world, those most responsible for the reputation of the sector need to understand where people divide and unite on charity.