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39% of the public think that charities are untrustworthy and don't act in the public's interest, according to the Charity Commission's 2016 report, up from 29% in 2014. There are serious concerns with the leadership: only 46% believe charity executives 'tell the truth', according to Ipsos' Veracity Index. The not-for-profit sector clearly has arrived at 'a historic low'.

This decline in trust is a serious risk to the charity sector. Organisations in the UK need to face the increasingly sceptical public with a robust response. To re-build trust, we recommend three steps:

1. Benchmark your NGO against a universal accountability standard

To demonstrate trustworthiness, NGOs can measure their performance against a universal accountability standard that embraces the 360-degree accountability principle.

Some standards, codes and guidelines are used only by NGOs or donors. While these may provide assurance to a specific donor, or be a perfect internal monitoring tool for NGOs, these assessments often don't provide the objective reassurance the public needs and recognises.

Universal accountability standards provide this assurance, which are not tied to a particular donor, field of activity or country. For example, the voluntary SGS NGO Benchmark standard is a consolidation of over twenty codes of best practice, guidelines and international standards developed by and for use by not-for-profit organisations. Universal standards such as this offer important insight into how the organisation performs compared to its peers and set a clear course of direction for continuous improvement. These benchmarks also show that organisations are serious about measuring and monitoring their performance, which builds trust with the public, donors and partners.

2. Get an independent third party verification

NGOs can further build trust by inviting a third party to verify their performance against a chosen standard. This gives organisations an objective assessment that can be communicated to donors and the public.

As a third party verifier against the NGO Benchmark standard, we have found benchmarking has greatly boosted the confidence donors and other stakeholders have in these organisations, which help secure new funding. In addition, it has led to stronger organisations with a better grasp on the priorities to be set and decisions to be made. The fact that 34% of NGOs come back for recertification demonstrates the standard's success as both a practical management tool and an effective way to harness trust.

3. Treat trust as an asset

93% of the public believe charities play a fair, important or essential role in society. Bond's Aid Attitude Tracker shows that 16 million people have a moderate or supportive attitude to aid and development, and that it is the next generation of British citizens - the 18-24 year olds - that are most hopeful and trusting of NGOs.

To avoid the possible dramatic consequences of further decline in trust, make sure that you invest in measures that can generate trust. Let's demonstrate to the public that being passionate, non-profit and professional go perfectly well together!


SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. SGS is recognized as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. With more than 85,000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 1,800 offices and laboratories around the world.