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Building on trust

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The Public and Charity Surveys 2020 that we have published today are a core part of OSCR’s research. But earlier this year, without knowing what was about to unfold, we decided on a few changes.

Our fieldwork was carried out between February and March 2020, finishing just before lockdown began. It would be easy to think that the findings are less relevant now, with the new challenges and pressures we’re facing. But that is not the case. There are insights here, for OSCR, for charities and for the public that can contribute to a more capable and better supported sector.  Crucially, this research helps us understand the specific role for OSCR in helping us get there.

Trust matters

The positive headline is that trust and confidence in charities has increased significantly, from an average score of 6.14 out of 10 in 2018 to 7.02 out of 10 in 2020.  This is mirrored in other research, with the Charity Commission for England and Wales recognising a similar increase. More people said their trust had increased or stayed the same compared to two years ago (68% in 2020 compared to 53% in 2018). For those trusting charities less, negative press is still the main driver, but it seems that distance from the safeguarding scandals of 2018 has subtly shifted mid-range trust scores upwards.

There were higher trust scores for charities working in Scotland (7.20 out of 10), working locally (7.09 out of 10) and working only with volunteers only (7.18 out of 10). In contrast to lower scores for charities who fundraise on the street (5.08 out of 10) and who advertise on TV (5.81 out of 10). We can’t untangle the assumptions behind these figures with survey data, but it does seem that individuals feeling a close connection to the impact of a charity’s work is valuable for building trust and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Interest and engagement with charities is just as strong as ever with 93% of the Scottish population donating money, goods or time, so trust is important. It is the second most common reason for donating (44%) after the importance of a charity’s cause (56%).

Assuring the public of the honesty and integrity of charities was one of the main policy drivers for charity regulation in Scotland and we are committed to improving trust and confidence in the sector. But over the last 14 years the sector has changed, and so has the public understanding and expectations of charities and good causes. Public views are being continually shaped by what we see online, in the news and on their friends and family’s social media feeds. To regulate effectively, we need to know what the public and charities expect of OSCR so we can shape our activities and deliver that assurance.

How does regulation help?

We know there’s a link between trust and regulation with higher scores amongst those who are personally involved with charities (7.20 out of 10) and aware of OSCR (7.32 out of 10). We’ve also found good evidence for transparency as a driver for trustworthiness, with 35% mentioning it without prompting. This was confirmed with 58% saying that knowing how much of a donation goes to the cause and 55% saying seeing evidence of what the charity has achieved would be most likely to make them feel a charity was trustworthy when prompted. These are familiar themes, so it’s reassuring to see them feature so clearly.

While there is strong evidence for transparency as a driver of trustworthiness, there are different ways that can be achieved. This matters when trying to reach different parts of the population.

Overall, there is fairly good awareness of charity regulation in Scotland, with 53% of the public believing there is some kind of regulation and only 3% believing there’s none (43% don’t know). Awareness of OSCR is lower (24%), but when told about us, 92% say our role as important.

When we asked what functions would be important for OSCR to maintain, protect and enhance trustworthiness, 57% of the public said ensuring charities stay within the law, followed by checking and monitoring charities’ accounts (49%).

What do Scottish charities think?

Our relationship with the public is important, but it is only part of the picture. Our relationship with charities is crucial to our credibility as a regulator. We have a much better chance of succeeding if we understand charities, the issues they’re facing and the support they need to make an impact.

Charities’ view of what is important to build trustworthiness was similar to the public, but with greater emphasis on checking/monitoring charity accounts and making sure charities are run for the public benefit (see below).


There were also some surprising results. Charities felt that ensuing the public have access to annual reports and accounts was more OSCR’s responsibility (45%) than the responsibility of individual charities (14%), with similar results for ensuring charities are transparent and accountable (40% OSCR’s responsibility, 16% charities’ responsibility).  Opinion was more balanced for ensuring charities operate in an ethical way (28% OSCR, 26% charities), while charities felt more responsible for ensuring they are well run (24% OSCR, 36% charities). Some of this new data challenges our assumptions but it will be crucial to a successful partnership with charities going forward.

Building our knowledge

Now, more than ever, the sector is under incredible pressure, with financial and operational challenges likely for some time to come. While our focus groups showed that there is definitely an appetite for OSCR to investigate and take action where there is wrongdoing, this alone does not have the reach or potential to build trust and confidence in the work of charities.

We need to use the insights gained in this research to work with charities to build and improve awareness of the sector and its regulation. Then we can equip the public and others with a clearer understanding of charities and how the sector works so they can engage with knowledge and confidence.