Slapping away the open hand

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Politicians, of course. Lawyers, naturally. Journalists, obviously. But charity workers? They are supposed to be the good guys in a society overpopulated with assorted villains and charlatans. Why, then, have we suddenly lost faith in the open-handed among us?

A new survey commissioned by the Muttart Foundation finds that the trust Canadians invest in various sorts of charities is sliding, though it points out that “results of the 2013 survey indicate that Canadians’ opinions and attitudes about charities are both stable and positive.”

It’s just that “compared to previous surveys, the trust in certain types of charities – including environmental organizations, churches and other places of worship and international charities – has declined.”

What’s more, the organization observes, “there have also been negative changes in the extent to which Canadians believe charities are adequately explaining how they use donations, or whether charities only ask for money when they really need it.”

It’s worth noting that Muttart is, itself, a charitable group. It describes its operating philosophy, thusly: “The Foundation considers a robust charitable sector as central to a strong, healthy society. Through their work charities build community and address key social issues and concerns. The Foundation’s philanthropy focuses on. . .strengthening the charitable sector; early childhood education and care; (and) management development and leadership.”

What, one wonders, would Canadians make of its use of precious resources to fund a survey that falls somewhere on the periphery of its charitable mandate? Or, is this, in effect, a “sector strengthening” exercise?

At any rate, the data seems clear: People in this country want their money to go to hospitals, kids and disease prevention. They are less fond of funding arts organizations, international development and religious groups.

Meanwhile, according to the survey, “the percentage of Canadians who believe that charities are generally honest about how they use donations is still high at 70 per cent, but has decreased from the 84 per cent who felt that way in 2000. Similarly, only about one-third of Canadians (34 per cent) believe charities only ask for money when they really need it, compared to 47 per cent of Canadians who felt that way in 2000.”

Perhaps the most illuminating findings concern attitudes, not about institutions or general principles of giving but about the individuals who pull the purse strings.

“Trust in charity leaders has decreased and softened,” the poll reports. “Only 17 per cent of Canadians trust charity leaders a lot, a decrease of 10 percentage points since the 2000 study. In total, 71 per cent of Canadians say they have some or a lot of trust in charity leaders, compared to 77 per cent in 2000 and 80 per cent in 2004.”

On the other hand, Muttart reports, “trust in all kinds of leaders, other than doctors and nurses, has decreased over the span of 13 years, and notably since the last survey was conducted in 2008. These decreases are particularly noticeable for religious leaders (down 14 percentage points to 63 per cent), lawyers (down 10 percentage points to 62 per cent), federal politicians (down eight percentage points to 33 per cent) and provincial politicians (down nine percentage points to 36 per cent).”

In fact, this probably explains the woeful trend in the piety sector. It’s not that we mistrust charity workers, per se. It’s that we mistrust just about everybody for myriad reasons, of which the most persuasive is that everybody lies. Or, so we believe.

That may not be especially revelatory, or historically novel, but the near barrage of news, opinion, fluff and nonsense emanating from switched-on, round-the-clock media renders everybody’s prevarications – consequential or otherwise, real or imagined – up close and personal.

And, so, ours has become a society of trained cynics, observing the “outsiders” in our midst with a jaundiced eye, presuming their guilt until they prove their innocence.

At least, that’s what the polls seem to indicate, including the ones that rank professions by “most loved” and “most hated”.

Most loved? Firefighter, of course.

Most hated? Need you ask?

Pollster, naturally.

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