David Green is director at Green Pepper Consulting and associate consultant at Action Planning.
Many people don’t trust banks or estate agents but they still use them; most don’t trust politicians, yet they still vote for them. But what about a charity? It needs to be more than good at what it does. It needs to convince funders, partners and the public that it is fundamentally trustworthy. So while good leadership is visionary and inspiring, a social leader also requires an understanding of their organisation’s unique nature and status in civil society.
According to a survey published in March this year, the public believes charities spend around 57% of their income on running costs, when in reality, typical running costs are just 14%. This image problem is of such concern that the National Council for Voluntary Organisations have even set up a new website to explain how charities work.
But earning trust requires more than just a website. Financial integrity and an absence of conflicting interests should come first, but as I’ve argued before, investments should also be ethical. And social leaders need to ensure a level of genuine openness and transparency in dealing with the public which just hasn’t been the case in the sector thus far. Publishing the percentage of income spent on running costs will help. Perhaps too, we should heed the advice of those asking for CEO salary levels to also be made more readily available.
Of course, to function, an organisation needs people. So trust in the leadership from staff and volunteers is arguably just as vital as that of donors. As such, leaders should listen to and, above all, value and respect the contributions made by staff and volunteers. This may sound obvious, but to disregard this will demotivate rather than inspire.
Indeed, leadership is people focused rather than purely organisational. In my experience staff and volunteers will respond when given a voice. So let them help shape how your organisation works and what it becomes. Ask, listen and respond, rather than simply tell. But don’t leave it to the annual away day. Make engaging with, and responding to staff and volunteers, part of your organisation’s culture.
Significantly, social leaders have a level of commitment and authenticity that often can’t be replicated in other sectors. This makes them well placed to promote trust. By being proactive, highlighting values, and demonstrating solidarity with those they are helping, social leaders add value to their message and to their organisation. A good leader will be a great advocate, demonstrating success, as well as being clear about where the money goes.
Trust is not an entitlement, nor should it be disposable. But to lead social change it is certainly a requirement. As the former chief executive of Centrepoint, Anthony Lawton, said to me recently: ‘What would happen if you took away trust? As a leader, you are the face of your organisation. But take away the trust of your team, your beneficiaries or the public, and you will soon be lost.’
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