It’s been a challenging year for the charity sector.

Both Oxfam and Save The Children are examples of charities that have been hit with allegations over staff conduct. Previous Populus research has shown that the public name ‘media stories’ as the main reason why their trust in charities has dropped.

Populus has conducted research on behalf of The Charity Commission to explore public trust and confidence in charities in 2018.

The report follows on from previous research on the same topic. It investigates overall public trust and confidence in charities in comparison with other sectors and changes over time, identifies what the public consider to be trustworthy behaviours in charities, and explores whether trust influences support.

Trust in 2018 – The Findings

Trust matters. The report shows that public perceptions of ‘trustworthiness’ have an impact on support for an organisation or sector, ultimately affecting its ability to achieve its goals. What ‘trustworthy’ behaviour looks like and how it impacts end goals varies by organisation and sector.

Our latest research for the Charity Commission explores what trust really means for the sector, and the impact it has on support.

Our research shows that the public want charities to demonstrate good stewardship of funds, to live their values, and to demonstrate impact. It also demonstrates the impact of trust on donations.

For example, many of those who feel that their trust in charities has decreased in the past two years (and this cohort has increased in number to over 4 in 10 members of the public) say they are donating less money as a result. Those who do not trust charities are far less likely to have recently made repeat donations than those who do.

Overall trust and confidence in charities remains at similar levels to 2016 when the research was last carried out. In both years, scandals reported in the media involving major humanitarian charities (which are also the type of organisation the public instinctively think of when they think about ‘charities’) occurred before our polling took place, negatively impacting overall trust and confidence.

Nevertheless, the sector holds up well compared with others. It is still more trusted, for instance, than private companies, banks, and politicians. It remains less trusted, however, than the average man or woman in the street.

The public still think the sector plays an important role in society – they simply want it to evidence the positive effect it has with their generosity. Words are not enough; the public expect trustworthy behaviour and proven impact.

What do charities mean to the public

The word bubble below shows what respondents say immediately comes to mind when they think of charities. The larger the word, the more frequently it was chosen by the public.

The country’s largest charities, such as Oxfam, Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation, and those which directly help vulnerable or ill people tended to be front of mind for the public.

Some respondents name specific characteristics they associate with charities, most notably being caring, helpful to those in need, and not for profit.

Very few respondents immediately thought of local charities, educational organisations, or cultural institutions. This context must be borne in mind when interpreting public trust in charities.

Public trust in charities

Previous reports have charted the UK public’s trust and confidence in charities. The research shows that it has remained steady compared with results from 2016.

Public trust and confidence in charities remains at similar levels to 2016. In both 2016 and 2018, the public’s trust in charities was knocked by controversies surrounding Age UK, Kids Company, and most recently, the Oxfam scandal.

Those aged 18-24 are much more likely to trust charities than those aged 55 or over. There has been a long-term growth in the % who self-report that their trust has decreased.


Populus research on behalf of The Charity Commission shows that charities are still highly valued. A majority (58%) think charities play an ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ role in society today. Only 6% think they do not play an important role.

Charities are viewed as more trustworthy than government, private companies and newspapers. They are seen as less trustworthy than the average man or woman in the street.

When it comes to determining trust factors, transparency matters. According to our research, the public consider it extremely important that charities are transparent about where money goes.

It is also important that they are true to their values, that they use resources efficiently, that they are well-managed, and that they demonstrate positive difference. Whether or not a charity is entirely run by volunteers is comparably less important to the public.

You can read the full Trust in Charities 2018 report here



Populus conducted a demographically representative online survey of 2,059 adults in England and Wales, from 22-25 February 2018. In previous years, the survey has been conducted using a telephone methodology (Computer Assisted Telephone Interview, or CATI, using a mix of mobiles and landlines). In order to transition from this to an online survey, Populus conducted a shorter, concurrent telephone survey on the same weekend using exactly the same methodology as in previous years, in order to quantify the modal differences between the two methodologies. A summary of those minor differences is shown below for the key questions asked across both methodologies.


In the interests of space and concision, some question wordings or answer options have been abbreviated in the report. Consult the full data tables for full wordings.


In addition to the quantitative surveys, Populus also conducted four focus groups to inform the research and investigate the attitudes of the public towards charities. Each group consisted of around ten participants, lasted around 90 minutes, and followed an open-ended discussion guide developed with the Charity Commission. Two focus groups were conducted in London, and two in Chester (one with only Welsh participants and one with only English). In London, one group comprised those who were positive towards charities, and the other those who were more negative towards them. All four groups contained a range of ages, genders, and ethnicities.