Transparency is a hot topic within the charity sector and has been for many years. People want greater transparency so that they can better understand where charities’ money goes and how it helps them with their cause and impact.

The demand for increased transparency is due to some apparent fraudulent activity, misconduct, unethical behaviour and inefficient operation models that have been revealed within the sector.

Transparency is something that is required to fix the deep disappointment that exists for donors and to repair the damage that has been done to public trust.

People within the charity sector debate about what extent of transparency is enough to keep the donation levels what they were and just what exactly transparency entails? We think the most important thing is to provide the information that the public wishes to know and to engage with them in a meaningful way.

Why does the public deserve transparency?

The Money For Good UK report by NPC published in 2013 estimates that £665m of new donations and almost £1.7bn of switchable donations would be available if there was better evidence and information available to the public and potential donors. These research results clearly demonstrate that transparency is something that is key to increasing donations.

The UK is the most charitable country in Europe and among the top 10 most charitable countries in the world.

The public, individual donors, companies and grant givers fund charitable activities by donating registered charities around £23bn annually.

NCVO estimates that volunteering contributes an additional £22.6bn to the UK economy.

When looking at the incredibly generous numbers above, it’s no wonder the UK public believes they should be entitled to learn more about charities and have more interactive communication with them.

Forging trust

To us at whatCharity, it seems the charity sector is still talking about increasing transparency in terms of controlling what and how much they wish tell to the public.

As in any relationship, mutual trust is built through open communication and making sure both parties have a voice. It should be about positive interaction, not about revealing bits and pieces when demanded.

As only 1-3% of donors do proper research from multiple sources with deep analysis when choosing the charity they wish to support, it is the responsibility of the sector and individual charities to communicate in easy to understand way.

Charities need to be found and embraced by the community

The big challenge for charities is to be found by donors.

One in two people who don’t give to local charities say the main reason is that they are unaware of them. Only 30% of the public would feel confident donating to a charity they have not heard of previously.

Therefore, familiarity and a connection with the local community are important when the public choose which charities to trust and donate to.

For something like this, Google doesn’t provide the answers. All other things in donors lives can be found instantly online and are open for scrutiny, ratings, and reviews. But this isn’t the case for the charity sector which has been operating in a different reality, until now.

As mentioned earlier, creating trust is only possible via two-way communication. The voice of other donors, volunteers and beneficiaries are much more efficient than any advertising or paid marketing campaigns. Therefore, charities should be proactive in asking for recommendations, testimonials and spreading them where possible.

Platforms like whatCharity are built specifically to allow equal opportunity for all. Our totally renewed interface will be launched in May 2019, with improved map and search functionality and will place every charity and its shops, operational units, offices and areas of reach on a map in ‘Tripadvisor style’.

After you have been found by the public, it’s all about communication…

Know and explain WHY

The most important thing is for the public to know who you are and why you exist.

Having a clear philosophy and explaining your unique approach to making a difference is key. People need to understand why you do the things you do, what the scale of your projects are and the overall impact.

Communication is key

It all comes down to understanding what kind of world donors live in as they  ‘consume’ other things in their lives. If a charity wants to gain donations from individuals or companies then timely, well-managed communication is essential and should not be considered a burden.

Tell people what you have learned from your projects, share your beneficiary stories, be a living and breathing organization who does not have all the answers, but rather has passion and expertise. Those are the stories that engage, rather than polished surfaces showing 100% success rates.

Your charity is entitled to have admin costs and staff who can provide for their families. If you focus on the impact your charity has and to the quality of how your projects are run and volunteers & donors are treated, you won’t be questioned about trivial matters such as printing costs.

Embrace any feedback you receive. Ask questions and represent your charity in places where this communication can take place. Many times the people who are initially the most critical often become the best supporters when their questions are answered and they’re given the information they need to trust you.

Digitalise and simplify your impact data

Digital tools, platforms and social media enable charities to utilise the material they had to collect for their grant applications and enable the message to be refined into an easy to understand format.

When communicating with donors, volunteers, companies and any others who could be potentially collaborating with your charity, communicate using “people´s language”. This is something we say at whatCharity, and you can see a great example by clicking here.

It’s important to remember that donors are not experts in your field and are best engaged with simple, powerful messages rather than difficult to understand jargon and complex statistics.

Be out there

Even if your charity is small and there are only a few of you, it is still possible to be known and recognised if you take part in active networking within your community.

Additionally, face to face appearance at events, meeting requests to potential supporters e.g. trusts, companies, local networks and having a strong online presence are also key.

There are a vast number of digital platforms where you can gain resources and charity network sites where you can promote your work. But, you shouldn’t try to be on all of them – it is better to do a few things very well than a lot of things poorly!

Create profiles on social media platforms that are relevant to you, your beneficiaries and donors. Remember the golden rule of interactive communication – ask advice from donors, report your impact and reward your supporters with updates three times more than sending requests for contributions.

Company partnerships

Companies are increasingly supporting charities and looking for new partnership models. SME’s are great for this purpose. Charities gain as much trust from partnering with local companies as companies do from partnering with charities

Thoughtful requests to companies can often deliver much more than small grants because of the amount of time spent making complicated grant applications.

Formulate a project where a company can contribute to with the resources they have. Companies and their employees can offer skills, products and services that you would otherwise buy with money.

Decide what you can give in return. Formulate a proper agreement and stick to what you promised. Giving back includes delivering material to company communication (impact, results) and perhaps appearing at their events to talk about the partnership and achievements. Giving the company an opportunity to meet the beneficiaries if applicable could also be a very powerful way to engage.  Take good care of those who volunteer and give them tasks that your charity actually benefits from and which feel meaningful for them. Always evaluate the time spent and the return when managing these partnerships.

Give back to people too

People have limited resources and their charitable contributions are rarely fixed slots of money, products or time. Donors wish to be inspired by the impact they were part of making, so why not help your donors to get that helper’s high and give them the giver’s glow?

This can be done in lots of simple ways. For example, a heartfelt thank you when receiving that bag of preloved clothes to your charity shop or granting a reference letter or certificate to a volunteer who might need a boost to their CV. A video greeting from your charity CEO or an impact webinar to sum up a project and say hi might guarantee long term donations, as people wish to be informed and acknowledged. 

Be open to new ideas, service providers and partners

We have heard many times that there are too many platforms in the market and that the charity sector is different from all the other sectors and consumer engagement ‘laws’ do not apply. This is unnecessary and harmful protectionism.

Every single working solution was new once. Every sector and industry is special and unique, but in the eyes of the funders, the expectations of a code of conduct are the same – they wish to have a voice and communicate with you.

Therefore, the agile, open-minded charities who are transparent and maintain good lines of communication will be trusted and supported by the public now and even more in the future.