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Trust in the social sector: public perception or reality?

Perception versus reality is a poignant theme which many of us have been grappling with since the aftermath of the EU referendum. Do the referendum results illustrate the country’s real wish to leave the EU, or are we in the mire of a bigger, societal disconnection with how the public wants real change in the face of austerity and social inequality?

The Charity Commission has just published their report, Public Trust and Confidence in Charities, which shows that public trust in the sector is at an all-time low having dropped by 10%. The report is a powerful read, but as I reflect on these findings I can’t help but wonder - is this perception or reality? And if we are to regain public trust, what does the sector need to do to make this a reality so that we can collectively climb out of this chasm of distrust?

There’s no doubt that the sector has faced a huge number of challenges, and it’s clear that the various media revelations and fundraising issues have dented the public’s view of the sector. However, the public also knows how vital charities are with 93% of the report’s respondents recognising that charities play a significant role in society. Increasingly, charities are taking up the fallout from government cutbacks to provide support to local communities across the nation.

Now, more than ever, charity sector leadership is imperative to ensure we deliver the support the public truly needs as we steer our way through these unpredictable times. Based on our experience of running the Fellowship programme for eight years, we know that leaders don’t get the support they need. Here are some ideas to help make public trust in charities become more of a reality:

  1. Invest in leadership development: There are countless examples of excellent leaders in the sector – from junior to senior leaders. They have the ability to lead their organisations and teams, but like everyone, their leadership skills need to continuously develop. Research shows that leadership development increases performance output by 23% , so investment in leadership training is a vital.
  2. Find your peers: Being a leader can be lonely job; this is one of the main complaints I hear from sector leaders. With this in mind, I strongly recommend that leaders develop peer groups where they can go for support and advice, and hopefully find innovative ways to collaborate.
  3. Speak up: Charity leaders need to feel empowered to speak up for themselves and think hard about their organisation’s messages and purpose to ensure they’re truly serving their beneficiaries. We must stand for what we think is morally right – if not us, then who?
  4. Collaborate: Together we have to mend society rather than allow the sector to continually fragment. I believe that most people who work in this sector do so because they want to make a difference, so let’s work together to make this happen.

Our country’s leadership is in a state of extreme upheaval where it seems as though there is no trust or cohesiveness within the major political parties. The Charity Commission’s report is a reminder to us to take positive action to rebuild trust, and strong leadership will help show the way.

Read the full report here.

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