Charities haven’t had the easiest relationship with Conservative MPs in recent years. Frustration at the number of charities lobbying in parliament and opposition to government policies has led to ‘stick to your knitting’ comments and legislation such as the Lobbying Act. Trust is in short supply between both sides.
However, the new political landscape offers a political stability that has been absent in recent years. Many charities are hoping that the passing of the Withdrawal Bill means MPs will have a little more ‘non-Brexit’ headspace for their areas of concern. The huge majority gives charities the chance to plan longer term strategies – something that has been painfully absent from their parliamentary work in recent years.
In the report we make five recommendations on how to build trust with MPs. I have pulled out three in this blog that I found most interesting.
1. International charities will have to work harder than their national and local counterparts to build trust.
Only 21% of Conservative MPs trust international charities to tell the truth. Just take a minute to process that. 21%. The same figure for local charities is 72%. The reputations of international charities have been impacted by the critical coverage of Oxfam and Save the Children in the last couple of years, and many MPs cited these examples as a reason to distrust charities. For those working in international charities your job to build trust with Conservatives is difficult. You must work even harder to show your impact and demonstrate transparency at every turn.
2. Charities need to do more on transparency
In 2017, 75% of Conservative MPs said that making charities more transparent should be the next priority for the sector. Fast forward to late 2019, and transparency is one of the top reasons for why MPs think the public struggle to trust charities. As one Conservative MP put it:
“Too little transparency on where the money goes.”
- Conservative MP
We were surprised by this response in 2017 so we followed it up with a question the following quarter - how do you think charities could become more transparent? The answer? Would you believe it, for 30% of Conservative MPs, it was publishing accounts / accurate figures on where the money goes and for a further 15%, publicising executive salaries. Many of the answers revolved around publishing more information. The irony is, of course, that all this information is available in charity annual reports.
This is the transparency dilemma for charities. You publish the data but very few, including MPs, will read it. Moreover, it then becomes a reason to not trust charities. This is why we always recommend that public affairs staff (and any member of staff who has contact with MPs) are ready to talk about what your income is spent on, how much your CEO is paid and why, and crucially, a clearly articulated summary of the impact the charity has.
3. We must get better as a sector at responding to critical media coverage
MPs have a long memory. Many are able to recite stories from a long time ago of when charities have not met the high standards that we all place on them. As one Labour MP said for why they don’t think the public trust charities:
“Some high profile scandals involving employees of international charities”.
- Labour MP
Clearly, there is not an easy answer for this. Bad and immoral practice happens in all sectors, but often the scrutiny of the response to the issue can be as damaging as the initial reason an organisation is facing pressure. MPs will always respond to the public’s anger, and this applies to charities just as much as it does to Phillip Green or Barclays. How individual charities and the collective sector respond to bad practice is crucial in not allowing trust to fall, and that is something all charities are responsible for.
If you'd like to find out more about our research with MPs, please download the briefing pack below.
 ‘Charities should stick to knitting and keep out of politics, says MP’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/sep/03/charities-knitting-politics-brook-newmark [Accessed February 2020]