Trust in Charities. We need to talk.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Notes from the CEO
Marcel Lauzière

Many of you will have seen by now the results of the recent Muttart Foundation survey: Talking About Charities. This is the 5th iteration of the survey that was first done in 2000. This time around The Muttart Foundation contracted Imagine Canada to do the analysis of the responses.

There is some very good news coming through this major phone survey of close to 4,000 Canadians, but there are also some very real messages that Canadians are sending us and that we need to take very seriously. As a charitable sector, we need to be listening very closely to what is being said.

In terms of positive news, there is much in this survey that should be of real comfort to us particularly when we compare ourselves to other sectors in society.

Fully 93% of Canadians believe that charities are important to Canada! 79% of those surveyed trust us and that is way beyond the trust levels that they have for various levels of government, the media and corporations. Only small business does slightly better than charities at 81%. That’s not bad!

And what I found really heartening is that the highest levels of trust come from young Canadians. Now that is a real myth buster for me. How often have I heard that this new generation is simply not interested in the work of charities, that they see us as old hat and unresponsive to the needs of contemporary society. Well these numbers certainly go counter to that view.

I was also quite pleased to see the high level of support for charities engaging in business activities to further their mission (86%). This is a strong sign of support for the important work that we do to serve Canadians in communities here and around the world.

But the news is not all good.

While the trust levels in charity leaders are still very good in comparison with those of most other sectors, (only nurses and doctors do better than we do), the level of trust has gone down from 80% in 2000 to 71% today.

And the percentage of Canadians who feel that charities are honest about the use of donations, while still quite high at 70%, has decreased from 84% in the 2000.

As for operational costs, while the good news is that more Canadians appear to recognize the need to spend on these, we still have more than a third of Canadians who feel that it is not appropriate to have some of the money raised go to cover operating costs!

With regard to fundraising costs, over the past decade Canadians have been saying that information on this front is very important while the percentage of those surveyed that are telling us that we are doing a good job has decreased. This is a problem.

Canadians are sending us important messages… We will need to show that we are listening and we will need to figure out how to give them better answers.”  — Marcel Lauzière

Now some of these less favourable numbers can be put on the back of a generally more cynical society where most institutions are less trusted than they used to be. I am quite certain that this partly explains some of the results we are seeing.

But we would be very wrong to believe that all of this is due to contexts and we would be remiss to sit on our laurels because we appear to be doing better than most other sectors.

Canadians are sending us important messages here that we need to acknowledge. There are issues of trust and confidence that need to be addressed. Canadians are increasingly asking hard questions about how we conduct ourselves and how we use our resources. We will need to show that we are listening and we will need to figure out how to give them better answers.

The results of this survey will, I hope, strengthen our resolve to do a better job at connecting with Canadians in a new to way to better explain our role and contribution to society and to the economy (what we do, why we do it and why it matters) so that we can also improve our communications about why we actually need real resources to get the job done and have real impact.

This is hard work for sure and Imagine Canada, working with many partners from across the charitable sector, has started the process of developing this new narrative. There has been much support for this work and the latest results of the Talking About Charities survey is a powerful reminder that we need to act and we need to act quickly.

Photo of Marcel Lauziere, CEO of Imagine CanadaMarcel Lauzière is the President and CEO of Imagine Canada. Prior to Imagine Canada, he served as Deputy Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development in the New Zealand government. He has also served as President of the Canadian Council on Social Development, as Special Advisor to the President of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and as Founding Executive Director of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Throughout his career, Marcel has been a volunteer and has served on numerous boards and advisory committees in Canada and internationally. He is currently on the Board of the Public Policy Forum, on the Editorial Board of the Philanthropist, a member of the Accounting Standards Oversight Council (AcSOC), and a member of the Governor General’s Advisory Committee on Philanthropy and Volunteerism.

 

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