Building a culture of trust

A recent report from the Charity Commission stated that trust in charities is the lowest it has been since it started recording this metric in 2005. The report, which is based on a survey of over 2000 participants, states that trust in charities is lower than that towards a stranger in the street. This statistic is shocking and worrying for the sector because the report identifies a clear correlation between trust and propensity to give. The report points to the need for charities to clearly demonstrate the link of all activity to its core purpose; to increase transparency about costs and how funds are deployed in furtherance of core purpose; and a culture and behaviours that align with that purpose. It is these three elements together, the Commission says, that will increase public trust in the sector.

Whilst the results of this report are shocking, anyone following charity press over the last 3-4 years will not be in the least bit surprised by it. Scandals in large, well-respected charities have rocked the sector. If we cannot guarantee that the most vulnerable are safe when being supported by charities there to protect and help them how can we be surprised that trust is low?

But a review of any of the public facing communication from any one of those charities will display much of what this report calls for: a link of activity to the organisation’s core purpose. Charities can talk about the work they do, the impact it has and undertake review after review to find out why mistakes were made. But will this change the public perception?

All charities have a clear purpose. They wouldn’t exist if they didn’t. They exist to change the world. To eradicate hunger, poverty, cruelty, disease. Most people who work in a charity will be clear about that purpose and, in my experience, be wholeheartedly and passionately committed to it. This isn’t the point of weakness. Where it gets blurry is when you start talking about how you will meet that purpose. What will actually make the difference? How will you know?

So how do you make sure that every initiative has as clear and compelling a why as your overall mission? How do you focus activity, and therefore funds, in the most effective way in furtherance of your goals? These aren’t easy questions, but it is in their answers that real change will be made in the sector.

For every new initiative that is proposed, there must be a clear link to core purpose. How will this move us closer to our goals? And to be able to answer this, every decision maker in your organisation needs to have a clear and consistent view of what those goals are. This has to be the starting point. The framework from which difficult decisions around priorities are made.

Transparency must be the norm. This starts with open and clear communication. A commitment to listening as well as broadcasting. And a culture where debate and discourse is encouraged; where diversity of views is welcomed. It doesn’t mean everyone is involved in everything. It doesn’t mean collective decision making. It doesn’t mean an end to confidentiality. But it does mean engaged and open debate, clear communication of ‘why’ and an ability to review, learn and adapt.

And to build trust, which we have all known since childhood takes longer to build than to lose, charity leaders must be prepared to be held accountable. They must trust their own teams to deliver. They must call out inappropriate conduct and encourage others to do the same. They must listen to what is working and what is not. They must hold themselves and those around them to the highest standards of delivery and behaviour.

And when this way of working becomes the norm it will permeate everything the sector does. It will be easy to demonstrate and the trust will follow.

If we are to build trust through transparency and alignment with purpose, these values must permeate the organisational culture.

Start small. Start today. In every project. In every new initiative. And eventually, change will come.

Ask yourself and your teams:

  • Why are we doing this? How does it help us achieve our goals?

  • How will we know we are making the right progress? What will we do if we are off-track?

  • Who is responsible for this work?

  • Who needs to be involved?

  • Who cares about this work? How do we need to keep them informed? How will we understand their views and what’s important to them?

  • How will we measure success?

  • What have we learnt?

When we can answer these questions, we build trust and transparency because we are clear about purpose, we are open to listening and we are willing to learn.


Deliver Grow works with charities through periods of change, ensuring projects are delivered effectively and efficiently by having a clear purpose, structure and a strong focus on people and communication. We believe that these elements are central to achieving the cultural and behavioural shifts the Charity Commission identifies as being essential for rebuilding public trust. If you would like to talk to us about how we could help your organisation please contact us today.

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