Trust and transparency
By Saxton Bampfylde
Understanding what is occupying the minds of board members and senior executives in the social impact space has always been critical to our building strong and lasting relationships, and to serving the needs of our clients when it comes to making senior and strategic appointments.
Within the last few weeks we have been delighted to support the Association of Charitable Foundations’ (ACF) Annual Conference, and the publication of a new report by the Institute of Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) into ‘sustainability’. This report looks at questions such as, what do we mean when we talk about an organisation or a programme being ‘sustainable’? What value is there – especially for funders - in trying to measure the sustainability of charitable organisations or programmes? Is ‘sustainability’ always a good thing?
It was clear from the discussions had at both the ACF conference and the IVAR report launch event, that charitable organisations and foundations are increasingly questioning how to strike the right balance between trust and transparency. On the one hand, doesn’t it seems sensible and justifiable for funders, the media, the public and other stakeholders to expect transparency from charities, especially in the wake of Kids Company and the fundraising ‘scandals’? For many, transparency in this context means clear and reliable data on things like impact, core costs, and on the future viability (‘sustainability’) of organisations. On the other hand, the depletion of trust in charities and the accompanying pressure to create ‘sustainable’ organisations can create inward looking behaviour and take resources away from doing good. Organisations can end up participating in a ‘fantasy of self-sufficiency,’ becoming preoccupied with fulfilling the needs of funders, and reducing their capacity to take considered risks and to challenge failing systems as a whole.
Speaking at the ACF Conference, Sarah Atkinson of the Charity Commission reflected on the way in which public trust in charities is shifting from being unconditional, ‘character’ and intent-based to being competence and evidence-based, and therefore more transactional. It will be interesting to watch how this evolves and how charities and foundations can help rebuild trust, between each other and with the public and the media.
We also heard reflections on the link between increasing social inequality and the level of trust placed in charities and funders; it seems ever more important that there is an “equality of voice” in the complex relationships between funders, charitable organisations and their beneficiaries. How can organisations in this space respond to this need? We are delighted to work with a huge range of organisations considering this and other tricky questions and endeavouring to make sure that those they serve are kept at the heart of their strategic planning, and are represented around their board tables.