But Five Years After 9/11, Many Americans Still Have Reservations

Americans’ confidence in charitable organizations is rebounding, 5 years after the September 11th terror attacks, according to a national survey conducted on behalf of the Organizational Performance Initiative at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. [To view a pdf of the brief, please visit http://wagner.nyu.edu/performance/confidence/ConfidenceinCharities_2006.pdf] In 2001, major controversies surrounding disbursement of the September 11th relief funds marked the low point in public confidence in charities. But according to the survey, 69 percent of Americans say they now possess “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of confidence in the nation’s charitable organizations, up from 64 percent the year before. One thousand randomly selected adults were queried in the telephone survey in July 2006.

“The recent survey suggests that confidence is on the rebound,” said Paul C. Light, the Wagner School’s Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service and the founding principal investigator of the Organizational Performance Initiative.

Despite the rise in public confidence between 2005 and 2006, many Americans, including those who voiced strong overall confidence in charitable organizations, indicated that charities suffer from glaring weaknesses. The survey registers no improvement in confidence in how the organizations run their programs and services, while 71 percent say charitable organizations waste “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of money, up from 66 percent in 2005 and 60 percent in 2003.

“There is no evidence in this survey that Americans have returned to the halcyon days when they gave the benefit of the doubt to charitable organizations,” said Dr. Light, NYU who noted that controversies surrounding the Red Cross response to Hurricane Katrina just over a year ago are among the factors underlying skepticism. “Unfortunately, there are significant doubts regarding the ability of charitable organizations to discharge their basic responsibilities.”

Before September 11th, 90 percent of Americans had expressed a lot or some confidence in charitable organizations. According to Dr. Light, the survey in part points up how important it is that individual charities be more vigilant in demonstrating the social impact generated by the money they raise, as well as more effective at demonstrating how their administrative expenses facilitate their ability to help people, deliver programs and services, be fair in their decisions, and spend money wisely.

Charities, large or small, depend on public confidence to attract volunteers and funds necessary to improve their administrative capabilities and carry out their varied public-service missions.

“Charitable organizations do not need to do a better job showing the faces of the people they help - Americans already believe they have the right priorities,” Dr. Light said. “Rather, they need to do a better job of showing that they actually achieve their missions and produce measurable results.”

To see Dr. Light’s research brief about the survey, contact Robert Polner in NYU’s Public Affairs Office: robert.polner@nyu.edu or 212.998.2337. The survey results are to be published in full in the Sept. 11, 2006 edition of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The Organizational Performance Initiative at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service is designed to help organizations respond to the increased uncertainty that surrounds their missions. The Initiative focuses on helping all organizations in all sectors of the economy - government, not-for-profit, and for-profit. It also focuses on helping colleges and universities, standard-setting agencies, Congress, and the presidency improve their policies on behalf of greater preparedness for the future.

Press Contact

Robert Polner
Robert Polner
(212) 998-2337