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Recent debates within social and political theory, and within the public sphere more generally, reveal growing concern with issues of ‘trust’. While forms of voluntary association frequently are cited as prime examples of trust relations, they rarely provide a focus for such debates. In this paper we examine current developments within the voluntary sector in Britain, arguing that the relation of voluntary organisations to questions of trust is increasingly problematic. In particular a tension exists between trust relations based on principles of voluntarism and linked to shared values, and relations of confidence that are mediated by institutional and contractual forms. After surveying recent theoretical accounts of trust and confidence, we consider the relevance of these debates to the British voluntary sector. We then draw on a range of quantitative and qualitative research on the voluntary sector to examine how trust and confidence are negotiated with a number of key constituencies: the general public; government and institutional funders; business; and users or beneficiaries. Our argument is that, while resources of trust are linked to their core values, voluntary organisations are increasingly governed by formal measures designed to promote confidence.
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