Party Conference Summary – what we learned (part I)

With 2015’s conference season now in the history books, it’s time to take a closer look at what we learned. As regular readers will know, our party conference stand gave those in attendance the opportunity to give their answers to some of the questions that we’d explored in our ‘Under the Microscope’ report. Over the course of today and tomorrow we’ll give a bit of insight into the results, and what we learned from the conversations that we had on the stand.* Charities are trustworthy


We’ll start by looking at the issues of whether charities are trustworthy. The ‘Under the Microscope’ report found that levels of trust have fallen significantly in the past year, presumably because of media stories about fundraising scandals and the collapse of Kids Company in recent months. We found that attendees at both conferences were more positive in their responses than voters as a whole, and both conferences were more likely to answer positively than the voters supporting each specific party. People in attendance at Labour conference were more likely to believe that charities are trustworthy than those at Conservative conference.


In a similar vein, we also asked whether charities are good at demonstrating their impact. Here, we found that attendees at the two conferences were more likely to answer negatively than other audiences. Those at Labour conference were slightly more likely to think that charities are good at demonstrating their impact than those at Conservative conference, with both being less positive in response than the answers provided by voters and MPs.


Charities are good at demonstrating their impactWe’re looking at these questions together, because the conversations that we had on the stand covered many similar issues. Perhaps the most common theme to come up was the differences in people’s perceptions of local charities when compared to larger charities. Many of the attendees we spoke to on the stand at each conference felt extremely positive about the smaller charities that operate in their local area where they felt they could see their impact on the ground, but less sure about the trustworthiness and effectiveness of larger, national charities.


When visitors to our stand brought up the issue of trust, there was certainly a general positivity, with the recognition that issues at individual organisations did not necessarily reflect on the charity sector as a whole. However there were also concerns raised about fundraising issues and people feeling that they were being relentlessly chased for donations by charities. In addition, we also heard concerns raised about charities that some felt had become ‘too political’ – although we will consider that issue in more detail tomorrow.


We also spoke to a number of charity representatives who explained to us the challenges of demonstrating their impact, acknowledging that this can have an impact on levels of trust. Perhaps surprisingly, both in our report and on the conference stand we discovered that people who work for charities are the least likely to believe that charities are good at demonstrating their impact. This isn’t because they don’t feel that they are making an impact – far from it – but more the voicing of a general frustration that they aren’t always able to make sure that people understand the contribution that they make, and a determination to try and rectify that.


Charity workers also explained to us that finding a communicable way of demonstrating impact isn’t always easy, and that many organisations do not feel that they have the time or resources to divert to something that isn’t part of their frontline activity. This does actually create something of a dilemma for charities – many donors want as much of their donation as possible to go towards providing support, but also seemingly want charities to find better ways of demonstrating their impact.


Charities of course depend on support from the public, so rebuilding levels of trust is essential if they are to convince people to continue to give their time and money generously to the causes that they care about. But charities are also aware of the need to make more people aware of the impact that they have, and raise awareness of the value of charities. Neither of these challenges are easy, but both are essential to the future of the voluntary sector.


Thanks for reading – and tomorrow we’ll be looking in more detail about the relationship between charities and government, and the ability of charities to campaign.

Steve Clapperton


*It’s worth noting that all of our findings from conference need to be taken with a slight pinch of salt. The data in the ‘Under the Microscope’ report has been professionally compiled and analysed, the results from the voting on our conference stand are more of a snapshot, designed to give a flavour of the attitudes at each conference. We weren’t picky about who could vote, so each includes answers from politicians and party activists, as well as people from the world of public affairs and media etc. The language of the questions on the stand and in the report also differ slightly, although this was mostly just to cut down on the amount of words on our stand!

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