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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

The price of public trust

This opinion piece is over 7 years old

Susan Smith says it may seem obvious, but the message that good charities need good staff still isn't reaching the public

The gloves came off again this week over the issue of charity chief executive pay, which less than half the public believe in apparently.

Third sector think tank NFP Synergy revealed this fact, uncovered in a recent public poll, only to be lambasted by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations for daring to ask the question in the first place.

By putting the question out there, NFP Synergy gives credence to scaremongering about the effectiveness of charities. On the other hand, not asking would be a bit like not polling on whether people were going to vote UKIP because we think they shouldn’t.

It is not the poll that has created the idea that charity chief executives are a bunch of fat cats enjoying champagne receptions and six figure salaries. That notion comes from a concerted campaign in the right-wing (not just tabloid) media perpetuated by Tory politicians over the last few years.

The third sector needs to know what people think. These results suggest the public has at best little understanding of what charities do, and at worst, a growing distrust of charities, which for a sector increasingly reliant on public giving, is a worry.

While public perceptions in Scotland are likely to be a little different – NFP Synergy doesn’t give a breakdown from across the UK – the third sector shouldn’t be complacent here either.

So, how to respond? Not by shirking away from the issue or getting sucked into the rhetoric. The third sector in Scotland has nothing to be ashamed of. Cutting salaries, working conditions and training budgets for fear of media backlash will serve only to create a third sector that deserves to be lambasted in the press.

Strong, well-run services staffed by competent and capable people at all levels win public trust. What the sector could do better, however, is shout about this success more. Sometimes, unfortunately, the public needs the obvious pointed out to them.

In this case, the obvious is that our society is significantly better off with a strong third sector employing caring staff committed to their work.

Susan Smith is editor of Third Force News

Celebrate the success of the Scottish third sector by voting for your favourite Scottish Charity Awards finalist.



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Douglas J A Roxburgh. MBE
over 7 years ago
The most fundamental issues here in my experience is disconnection, projection and acceptance. Charity and voluntary giving remain being seen as archaic, centuries old practices with concepts that need to adjust in the 21st century. The disconnection is economic, political, social and educational where and when it suits, the third sector is a convenient cue ball that is used to divide opinions and justify others actions. The ways in which this is projected needs to be addressed not only by Charity and voluntary groups themselves but all forms of media and the public. Following the Election, many are seeking a 'third force revival' in what context that is meant and perceived is questionable, I would say that we should accept there is disparity in all of the areas mentioned above for children, young people and adults within our society and the approach needs to be thoughtful rather than reactionary. What really matters to people who want to give is where is and how much of the resources raised by Charities goes directly to point of need. Yes, it's important that open, honest and transparent dispersal of resources, the enevitable running costs to do this are highlighted and a communicated, well informed public can continue to have confidence in the work that is done. Educative efforts need to be increased to establish what Charity, Voluntary giving is all about. There will always be a cost element to maximise fund raising and delivery, we all need to remember this.