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Canadians Trust Charities But Want More Transparency

(Nov. 10, 2008) While a majority of Canadians say they have “a lot” or “some” trust in charities, a big complaint remains: they aren’t able to follow the money.

A recent opinion poll of nearly 3,900 people found that charities are highly trusted, with charity leaders ranking behind only nurses and doctors. Seventy-seven percent of those surveyed say they trust charities at least somewhat.

Of those who have just some trust, a little trust or no trust whatsoever in charities, the most common reason given was that they weren’t sure where the money is really going. Thirty percent of this group voiced this complaint. Their concerns included the cost of fundraising and fundraisers paid by commission.

Where Do My Donations Go?

According to the survey report, this complaint is not new. “Respondents in 2008 as well as in previous years said there continues to be a significant gap in how charities perform at providing information about essential aspects of their operation,” notes The Muttart Foundation in Edmonton, Alberta, which conducted the survey. Talking About Charities 2008 is available as a free download on the foundation’s website.

Almost all respondents—96 to 98 percent—said it was important that charities provide information on how they use donations, the programs and services they deliver, their fundraising costs and the impact of their work on Canadians, the survey found.

Yet, only 29 percent said that charities do an excellent or good job of providing information about how they use donations. Twenty-six percent said they did an excellent or good job of providing information about their fundraising costs, 38 percent said they did an excellent or good job of providing information about the impact of their works and only one half said they did an excellent or good job of providing information about the programs and services they deliver.

Views on Fundraising

Overall, most Canadians (60 percent) feel it is appropriate to have some of the funds raised go towards the charities’ operating expenses, as long as they are reasonable. They are evenly divided in their views on whether or not there should be legal limits on how much money charities spend on fundraising. Half (52 percent) believe there should be a legal limit set on the amount of money charities can spend on fundraising, while the other half (47 percent) feel charities should be able to decide for themselves.

Many Canadians, however, do have objections to charities hiring commission-based fundraisers, with 64 percent feeling this practice is unacceptable. A majority of Canadians (74 percent) think commission-based fundraisers should always be required to indicate that they are receiving a percentage of donations raised.

“We’re very pleased that so many people understand the perils of percentage-based compensation," said Paulette V. Maehara, CFRE, CAE, president and CEO of AFP. “We will continue to educate people about why this practice sends the wrong message to donors and can steer fundraisers away from the best interests of the charity that they work to advance.”

Charities Seen as Critical

The importance of charities is something that clearly resonates with respondents, the poll showed. Of the 3,863 people interviewed, 93 percent said that charities are important to Canadians, while 85 percent said charities generally improve our quality of life. Three-quarters of respondents said that charities understand the needs of Canadians better than government does, while 70 percent said charities are better than government at meeting the needs of Canadians.

Talking About Charities 2008 follows previous research studies on Canadians’ opinion toward charities undertaken by the Muttart Foundation in 2000, 2004 and 2006. The Muttart Foundation was honored with AFP’s Outstanding Foundation award in 2001.

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