February 17, 2016 : Ilse Mackinnon

Why is public trust in Scottish charities so strong?

82% of people believe most charities are trustworthy

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The results of our Ipsos Mori poll are in: the Scottish public loves charities!

Despite negative media coverage around fundraising, fat cat salaries and whatever charity bashing story sells this week, 82% of the public believe that most charities are trustworthy and act in the public interest.

Unfortunately, things are not so positive south of the border, where a recent Charities Aid Foundation poll found that only 57% of the public believe charities to be trustworthy.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a researcher in possession of a juicy statistic is like a terrier with a rat. Why, then, should there be such a big difference between the results in Scotland and England?

Friends and colleagues offered theories: we’re more charitable, we’re more socialist, we don’t read the Daily Mail. But being a conscientious researcher, I needed more than assumptions and stereotypes to go on …

Are people in Scotland more charitable?

We might be. Our poll showed that 77% of Scots donated money in the last year, opposed to only 61% in the wider UK.

People in Scotland seem to be more engaged with charities, with 84% having used a charity’s services in the last year. UK-wide, a recent IPPR survey showed that 79% had used a charity service in the last 12 months. Not only is this lower, but the UK figure includes visits to charity shops, which inflates the numbers significantly.

And as you would expect, the more engaged people are with charities, the more they support them. Our poll found that when people have used a charity, those giving high trust scores jumps from 67% to 78%.

Are people in Scotland more ‘left-wing’?

Yes and no. Scotland tends to be more socially democratic on many matters. For example, 43% of people think the ‘government should redistribute income from the better-off to those who are less well off’, compared to 34% in England. 54% of people in Scotland agree “cutting benefits would damage too many people’s lives”, against 44% in England. However, a comparison of the Scottish and British Social Attitudes surveys found that such differences are often marginal.

Are the media and politicians in Scotland more supportive of charities?

Maybe. No editor would reject a juicy scoop about saintly charities misbehaving or paying ridiculous salaries, and nor should they. However, commentators have suggested that the Scottish press tends to indulge less in ‘creative’ mud-slinging.

With regard to politicians, we need to tread carefully. As a non-party political outsider, it does seem that the language of Westminster is often critical of charities, whereas in Scotland most MSPs are positive about the third sector. Then again, this could be down to the fact that I’ve only heard MSPs speak at third sector events, and they know what goes down well with the crowd.

Did the referendum play a role?

Possibly. Much press at the time focussed on the divisiveness of the referendum. But what struck many in the third sector was how politically engaged people became. There was a huge surge in the number of teenagers interested in politics. People signed up for political parties in droves, and many got involved in community activism. In the afterglow of the referendum, it seems the groundswell of engaged citizens has remained, with our poll showing 36% signing a petition or supporting a campaign last year, versus only 21% in the rest of the UK.

The role of geography: is it really a north/south thing or is it urban/rural?

Geography plays a role. The more engaged people are with charities, the more they trust them, and Scotland has a far higher number of charities per head of population than the other UK regions. But we also know that rural areas have almost double the amount of charities per person than urban areas.

Perhaps the difference is down to Scotland being less urbanised than England? That would make an interesting area for further research.

Does the context of the survey play a role?

Probably. Surveys are not an exact science and humans can be sensitive creatures. It’s important to compare like for like. Every two years OSCR and the Charity Commission do their public trust surveys, asking pretty much the same questions, in the same order, in the same way. I’m looking forward to the results of their next polls to see if they identify the same trends.

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by Ilse Mackinnon