01/09/2016 08:25 BST | Updated 01/09/2017 06:12 BST

How Much Do You Really Know About Charities?

Last month, we published some research about public trust and confidence in charities. We do this research every two years, and for the first time since we started measuring them in 2005, trust levels have fallen. Whereas previously the public on average judged their trust in charities to be 6.7 out of 10, it has now fallen to 5.7.

It's important to emphasise that the loss in confidence in charities over the past two years has had little impact on the importance that the public places on the existence of the charitable sector. When asked how important a role they think charities play in society today, 93% of the public think that they play a role of either fair, very, or essential importance. Charities remain at the heart of a thriving, flourishing society. The public also tend to agree that charities are trustworthy and act in the public interest.

However, there's no hiding from the fact that certain factors including media coverage uncovering poor practices in charities, uncertainty about where donations end up, and perceptions of aggressive fundraising and executive pay have contributed to this decline in trust in the charity sector. The research tells us so. Charities and trustees contribute so much to society in building community cohesion and serving people in need.

But to ensure they can continue to do so, trustees, charities and sector groups need to ensure that they are clear about their aims, offer assurances that they are making a tangible positive difference, and that they fundraise in an honest and ethical way. In fact, many charities are working hard to restore public trust, whether by carefully examining their fundraising practices, reviewing their use of personal data, or making sure they regularly convey their aims and achievements.

One interesting factor that the research flagged up was a general lack of awareness of the diverse role of charities and their pervasiveness throughout society. For example, universities, art galleries, youth clubs, hospices, churches, and schools are all key examples of services that people frequently use without necessarily being aware of their charitable status.

When people know more about a charity their confidence in charities generally increases, so it's crucial that the public have the tools available to find out as much as they can about their chosen charities. Our online search tool is a great place to start. Here you can find information out about each of the 165,000 registered charities: it provides information on a charity's trustees, income and expenditure, and its key activities and objectives. Follow them on Twitter, find out how they make an impact and challenge them if you have a negative experience. Openness and accountability is vital for charities and is important to a thriving sector. And if you volunteer or work for charities, try to help address this information gap by spreading the word about your good causes.

However, as the regulator of charities in England and Wales we recognise that it's also up to us to help increase public trust in the sector as a whole. An important part of this is rooting out the abuse and bad practice in charities so that people can feel more confident when giving to legitimate good causes. However, we can also do more to create easy to follow guidance for charities, support the effective recruitment of trustees, and improve and promote the public data we hold to help people understand more about the modern charity context in which we operate. The key message is that people shouldn't be put off donating to charity because of the actions of a few. However, everyone has a key role to play if we are to keep the role of charities at the heart of society and maintain (or increase!) the high levels of volunteering and donations made by the generous British public.