EDITORIAL: Time to embrace the positive side of accountability

Lucy Maggs

The voluntary sector needs to start seeing the positive side of public accountability. In the past, any time it has been suggested that charities should make standard reports of their aims and achievements accessible to the public, the sector has dug its heels in.

In response to the suggested standard information return, which would result in this kind of information being put on the Charity Commission's website, charities have argued that collecting and presenting this information would create extra costs and divert money away from achieving their charitable objectives.

They also complain that it is hard to measure some of their less tangible achievements with their beneficiaries - for example, how do you show that you have helped to improve someone's state of mind?

Then there is the problem of league tables. Charities worry that if a standard demonstration of effectiveness is introduced, the media and the public will start constructing charity league tables, based on fundraising costs, or some other inaccurate representation of success.

But in actual fact, the standard information return, or something similar, could be a valuable fundraising tool. Charities may find that because they are able to access this kind of information, the public would be encouraged to give - it could also help grant-making trusts and make the applications process more straightforward.

The Charity Commission is now redrafting the SIR to try to whittle it down to a format that charities are happy with. The truth of the matter may be that the sector will never be entirely comfortable with the idea.

Perhaps the commission should focus more on pointing out to the sector the positive aspects of the SIR, and convincing organisations that accountability can really work to their benefit.

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