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Putting your trust in charities, and the role of research

March 26, 2013

2012-08-22I attended an event earlier this month entitled ‘protecting the Charity Brand’ which included a presentation from David Robb, Chief Executive of the Scottish Charity Regulator.  David spoke about the role of the Scottish Charity Regulator, and there was something about the vision of the organisation that got me thinking.

Charities you can trust and that provide public benefit.

Trust, eh?  That’s an interesting one.  Many members of the public do indeed question the trustworthiness of charities – and rightly so.  They want to know that public money / grant money / their own money [delete as appropriate] is being well spent.

Through Ruthless Research I work with a lot of charities, and I am a big believer in the role that good quality research can play in helping the public to trust charities, and in helping charities to demonstrate their trustworthiness to the public.

How so?

Evidence.

What better way for you – the person in the street – to judge whether you should place your trust in a charity?  If you can examine some evidence and be sure that a charity is acting as you would like it to act or doing what you would like it to do, then you can receive some assurance that the charity is trustworthy.

Research (my line of work) plays a major role in this, as there are many ways in which what I do can contribute to the generation of evidence for charities.  For example:

  • Planning strategy or projects
  • Exploring the need or demand for charitable projects
  • Understanding what their stakeholders think
  • Weighing up risks
  • Testing out ideas
  • Evaluating the effectiveness and impact of projects
  • Developing good governance

For a charity to collect this evidence is not enough to gain the public trust though.  Transparency is also important – the charity has a responsibility to make this evidence available and to tell people what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what they based their decisions upon.

The public also need to be able to judge whether the evidence at hand is worth listening to.  I play another role here, as the external expert.  As an accredited researcher who has no stake in the organisations that I work with I provide robust, ethically sound and independent research which both the charity and the wider public can be assured is robust and unbiased.

I don’t always tell charities the good news that they want to hear, but I do work closely with them to enable them to make evidence-based decisions about ways to take their practice forward based on the best evidence that they have available.  I’m glad to be doing my bit.

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