What do charity workers think about Government policies and the challenges for the voluntary sector?

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Over the course of the election campaign we carried out a series of surveys designed to help us understand attitudes in the charity sector towards the political world, and help us to ensure that the voices of charities are being heard by decision makers. Even though the election is now in the history books, we’ll be continuing our programme of surveys to help inform our work and engagement. Our most recent survey, which surveyed charity workers took place in July, and the results are now in.

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Since the election, the media climate for charities has been challenging. The tragic death of Olive Cooke has been linked to improper fundraising practices, and a number of subsequent stories have led to further criticism of the practices used by number of high-profile charities.
We asked whether charities and the voluntary sector are fairly represented in the media, and 71% of respondents said that they are not. It’s fair to say that the timing of the survey may have had an impact on the findings, but some of the additional responses we received were quite revealing. It seems that many charity workers believed that the criticism of the individual charities was used as a stick to beat the sector as a whole, and as a result many believe that they are being unfairly dragged into a challenging media climate.

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We also asked about levels of trust in charities. It is of course important that charities are trusted by the public, as this encourages people to continue to give generously and volunteer their time. Trust in charities remains strong, and compares favourably to other professions. It perhaps isn’t surprising to see that 93% of charity workers agree that charities are trustworthy and act in the public interest, but it is important that all charities continue to see what more they can do to help build public trust.

There is also strong support amongst charity workers for the role of charities as advocates. 93 per cent of respondents agreed that it is important for charities to highlight if they believe government policies will negatively affect people. The remit of charities to challenge government and policy has been the subject of much debate in recent years, with the passing of the Lobbying Act in particularly serving as a source of controversy, and it is important that charities have the freedom and confidence to speak out when they feel that their beneficiaries are at risk of negative outcomes.

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Charity workers are positive about the role of charities in providing public services, and want to see charities protected from funding cuts. 74% of charity workers agree that charities commissioned to deliver public services do so effectively, and 82% believe that money given to charities to run public services should not be a focus for spending cuts. This is a message that charities will doubtless want the Chancellor George Osborne to heed ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review later in the year.

We also asked charity workers about the role that they would like to see charities play in society over the next decade. Some of the responses are insightful, and a selection are provided below:

  • To further hold government to account – a social conscience if you like
  • Society needs to be educated on local charities and the services they provide, this should be bought into schools more to also show children the importance of kindness and generosity
  • To rebuild community and counteract individualism
  • To make public services more local and accountable for the service they provide
  • Get more people involved in volunteering while maintaining or increasing current levels of activity

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It’s clear that many charity workers have ideas for how their organisation and other charities can develop, and there remains a great deal of potential to be unlocked. However charities alone are not able to meet all of these aims; they need a strong, positive working relationship with the Government to enable the further development of the sector. As the new Government continues to implement new policies, we hope that Ministers will commit to working closely in partnership with charities and ensure that their innovation and expertise is being used to make a difference.

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