Websites are a great place to interest readers in accounts

Many small charities are more successful at conveying the information in their accounts through their websites, says Peter Gotham of Gotham Erskine

Peter Gotham
Peter Gotham

In a recent issue of Third Sector (29 March), Helen Simmons challenged us to "get a grip on the content of reports". She was referring to lengthy annual reports, into which much effort is put, but which are probably not well read. She advocated colourful, punchy pages in order to increase reader engagement and subsequently maximise the 'output' from all that effort.

The same message applies even more strongly in the case of online accounts. For the past few years, I have been a judge for the Charity Online Financial Reporting Awards run by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.

Every year it is striking how successfully some charities use the web to produce reports that engage the reader, enabling us to understand the work that the charity is doing, what resources are being used, the outcomes being achieved and the opportunities and problems that face continuing mission delivery.

A lot of these entries have sufficient information to allow even the most inquisitive of us to investigate to our heart's content, while at the same time letting the casual reader get a good overview.

Many use the power of the web in very imaginative ways. Perhaps you might think it's obvious that the web provides a real opportunity for charities to engage with their supporters and thus to garner further support. But a striking feature of our work as judges for ICAEW is that it is more often the small charity, probably with a dedicated volunteer or two, that knocks our socks off. The large charities, by and large, do not seem to make the same effort.

It is possible that the attraction of RSS feeds, blogging, social websites and Twitter might have persuaded the sector that their 'old-fashioned' websites do not need nurturing - but I strongly disagree.

These days, it seems to me that charities need to use all possible channels to reach their full potential readerships. The website still seems to me to be the best means by which different constituencies can be informed and then, I hope, encouraged to engage further.

Those who want to see what the most innovative charities are doing, or to learn from the mistakes of others, can go to the awards website and look at the "tips for success". The accounts for the 2009 and 2010 winners are also accessible from the main awards page - and they have now got another bit of free positive publicity, just to reinforce my argument.

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