Charity chiefs face credibility crunch in echo of City's trust deficit

For years, charity chiefs and City bosses have eyed each other suspiciously across the great social consciousness divide, writes Patrick Harrison of Weber Shandwick.

Charities are suffering a credibility crunch, argues Patrick Harrison
Charities are suffering a credibility crunch, argues Patrick Harrison
Despite periodically having to play nicely for fundraising or CSR objectives, each has for the most part held the other’s world view in thinly veiled contempt, while holding on tightly to their own self-justified existence. 

But something more fundamental is currently uniting these most reluctant of bedfellows: a credibility crunch.  

Public trust in charities and financial institutions is at an historic low, with both sectors facing tighter Government-enforced regulation enacted by new regulatory bodies.

For charities – like the banks before them – there have been a wave of scandals which, coming one after another, seem to have spoken to a bigger truth: that they are morally corrupt, relentless in the pursuit of their objectives, unaccountable and out of control.

In some ways, this has been even more shocking than the banking crisis, for which at least a certain amount of the reaction included (not necessarily justifiably): "Well, what did you expect?"

Not so for charities which, by their very existence, are supposed to stand for all that is benevolent and altruistic in society. 

So what can charities do to put right the huge dent in public confidence created by Olive Cooke’s death, Samuel Rae’s ordeal, aggressive 'chugging', excessive lobbying and the fall from grace of Kids Company’s Camilla Batmanghelidjh?

First of all, charities need to put their houses in order.   

We need to believe that, even when the increasingly all-seeing eye of the regulator isn’t present, our charities are still working efficiently, effectively and honestly.  

This requires them to communicate more effectively than ever before; not just putting all their efforts into raising awareness of their cause, their activities and how you and I can help – all of which are vital – but also in openly showing the lessons they have learnt, the reformed approach they have now adopted and the central role of their ethical aspirations.  

Despite its huge popularity, not many of us openly thank the Daily Mail. Many happily rubbish its faux-moral outrage while voraciously consuming its online celebrity offering at every available opportunity.  

But maybe we should thank the Mail for its campaign to clean up the charitable sector, which culminated in its recent "Victory" front-page splash.  

Even if we might have differences of opinion over the regulatory cure – and certainly anything that becomes politicised is worthy of our scrutiny – we can, I think, all agree that our charities (like our banks and, ironically, our newspapers before them) have supped long enough in last chance saloon and need to embark on the long road back to respectability and public approval.  

At a time when the state is receding and, arguably, social consciousness increasing, there is fertile ground to seed – not least with City financiers and the so-called right-wing media, who themselves could benefit from a resurgence in charitable effectiveness.  

Media partnership anyone?  

Patrick Harrison is director of reputation management and strategic media relations at Weber Shandwick

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