Trust in public institutions is on the wane. While community benefit organisations are not immune, they have a key leadership role in strengthening trust between all members of the community, writes Heart Foundation CEO, Adjunct Professor John G. Kelly (AM).
Business leaders last month acknowledged that a deepening “trust deficit” has in part been caused by companies failing to explain their role in driving economic growth, and failing to bring the community along by supporting those who are or might be affected by change.
This sets the scene for an interesting discussion about the corporate sector's engagement with the broader community, and scrutiny of its purpose in society, at the Australian Financial Review Business Summit in March this year.
By then, we’ll also know the results from the annual, much-anticipated Edelman trust barometer, which last year found that trust in all institutions – including governments, banks, media and NGOs – sank in 2017, both globally and in Australia.
Chances are these findings will not have improved during a year of political instability and continuing cuts in the media industry in many parts of the world.
Fortunately, trust in the Heart Foundation has remained steady during the same period, and remains at a higher rate than the average, according to our own HeartWatch report. It found that key indicators of trust, relevance and support for the Heart Foundation had slightly increased in the last 12 months.
We and other community benefit organisations can play a leadership role in strengthening trust between and among Australians and their institutions.
This is because the goals of community-benefit organisations are not self-serving, and appeal to the idealism and generosity of the wider community because we ask them to consider the common good. We must work hard to retain that trust – it is essential to our ability to do the work we do.
But even charities are being required to deliver higher standards to win the trust of a younger generation of Australians.
According to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission’s Public trust and confidence in Australian charities report 2017, released last month, disclosure and transparency were more important to younger Australians (aged 18-24) than other age groups. Thirty-seven per cent of them said they were more likely to trust a charity “if they provide the information they require” (compared to 26% of the total population).
This was a marked difference from the general population in another way too: with the wider group, respondents actually placed less weight on information around how a charity spends the money it raises than two years ago (45% said it influenced their trust compared with 54% in 2015).
In addition, a quarter (26%) of younger Australians also said they were more likely to trust a charity if they knew of people who had been helped by it, compared to 19 per cent of the total population.
As younger people are our future, we would do well to listen to them.
Telling human stories about the real people who are helped by not-for-profit organisations such as the Heart Foundation has always been paramount to retaining and growing trust. We must be able to explain how we are making a difference for the better.
Corporates, too, might be able to improve customers’ trust in them by showing how they and their staff are truly involved in helping make the world a better place.
We look forward to working with more corporate partners to gain support for important programs and research, while remaining independent and evidence-based.
The Heart Foundation is also delighted to be working on behalf of the Federal Government to deliver a $10 million Walking program, which will launch an initiative this year to get more people across Australia doing more walking. It is the most cost-effective investment in achieving useful public health outcomes.
Through our strong advocacy, we shall also continue to push for initiatives to improve public health including increasing the number of heart health checks by GPs, and improving access to cardiac rehabilitation programs for people who have suffered a first heart attack, especially those in rural and remote areas.
This is all part of our work to prevent heart disease and improve the heart health and quality of life of all Australians through our work in prevention, support and research.
It would not be possible without the support of everyday Australians, who contribute most of the donations to the Heart Foundation each year. We value their trust.