Annual report shows warts and all

Donor advice website Intelligent Giving is holding up its latest annual report as an example of exceptionally transparent and accessible communication that charities should follow.

Its staff marked the report against the criteria they use to assess charities on its website and said it scored 100 per cent.

The report, which will be released in the summer and covers Intelligent Giving's activity to July 2007, is candid about the organisation's failures. It mentions goals that were not met, policies that were not adequately set out and all the grants and contracts it applied for, including those that were unsuccessful.

The authors explain their shortcomings in a light-hearted way. One section, on the missed website visitor and charity profile targets, reads: "Our work is so new that we did not set much store by our original targets." Another entry, on risk assessment, reads: "We have not done all that we should in this area." But it adds: "Stakeholders could fairly give us leeway in this department."

The report also gives details of all Intelligent Giving's charity sector 'collaborators', a full list of staff and directors' interests and information about all the organisation's interns over the year.

"We recognise that it is definitely a challenge for charities to tell the whole truth all the time because of competition for fundraising," said Adam Rothwell, features editor at Intelligent Giving. "But it's important for them to be open and honest with their donors - people aren't stupid and they know that no organisation is perfect."

Rothwell added that there was even more reason for charities to be transparent in their reporting because of declining public trust in the sector.

"You can go to external marketing companies and ask how to write a good annual report, but that's not always a good idea because a lot of agencies will put together a good marketing document that isn't the most honest approach," he said.

"We showed the draft of our report to our supporters, took their comments on board and filled in the gaps."

The year at Intelligent giving

What worked

- More charities than expected have come to us for advice on transparency, which we have offered freely

- BBC Children In Need agreed to amend its policies for its 2007 appeal after we raised concerns that many aspects of its operation were opaque

- Online news sources worldwide picked up on our blog criticising Live Earth's failure to reveal where it was spending the money raised through sales of tickets for its concerts

What didn't

- We don't expect to meet our 2006 target of achieving two million website visits by 2008

- We haven't managed to earn substantial income from advertising and consultancy services

- We set ourselves a goal to create or update 557 profiles for the period 1 November 2006 to 31 October 2007. We created 443 new profiles in that period

- Our applications for grants from three major grant-makers were unsuccessful

Expert view

Charles Nall, director of corporate services, the Children's Society

Intelligent Giving is small and the scale of its effort to be transparent shows in two ways.

First, there is a great deal of information about its rationale and the efforts it has made to engage with charities. Beneath the headlines is a lot of interesting, well-presented detail about green issues, pay and plans for its future. Commentary is open about difficulty as well as success.

Second, the scale of effort for a small team shows in minor weaknesses. Could the report have been more succinct? An ambition to have six months of reserves is stated, but a reserves policy is not given. A 30-month financial forecast is there but, given the concerns about financing, I was left wondering about its credibility.

Nevertheless, this was a valiant effort, and one from which most charities of any scale could learn.

Marks: 9 out of 10.

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