Expert view: Our 'lost sheep' neighbours

If you're reading Third Sector, you are probably aware of the fact that you are involved with a charity, that the charity's resources must be used in pursuit of its objectives and that the trustees need to report on where those resources come from and what they are spent on.

All this may make you wonder why the Charity Commission has to spend so much of its own increasingly stretched resources reminding us of all this.

A quick scan of the 'name and shame' reports published on the commission's website of its inquiries into errant charities yields some less than startling conclusions.

"Fundraising methods which meet with disap-proval can damage the charity and reduce public confidence in the sector as a whole." Oh, really?

"Grant monies should always be used for the purpose they were awarded." You don't say! "It is important to ensure that proper financial controls are maintained in all areas." All right, we get the idea.

Yet some people evidently don't get the idea, otherwise the inquiries would not have been necessary and the commission wouldn't feel the need to string the transgressors up on its website.

Looking after the flock

But hang on a minute. If someone has got as far as this section of the commission's website, don't they already know the charity world well enough to avoid making such basic mistakes in the first place?

And there's the chall-enge. The flock in the field is in pretty good health and is easy to keep an eye on. The lost sheep are the ones more likely to have problems, but rounding them all up is beyond the commission's resources.

In an ideal world, Joe Public would have such a sound grasp of accountability requirements that no badly run charity would survive for long. But we know that's not the case.

Charity finance specialists, on the other hand, do have such a grasp, and between us we probably have some sort of involvement or other with every section of the community - even those the commission finds hard to reach.

I'm not suggesting we should be going round in vigilante packs, of course. It's more about looking out for your neighbours if they're in trouble.

It is difficult for a charity, even a small one, to avoid coming into contact with finance professionals. We will be doing the reputation of the sector a power of good if we can keep our eyes and ears open, and do not keep our mouths closed.

- Heather Lamont is head of charity business development at HSBC

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