Most charities do not have the skills, the will or the structures to measure and communicate how effective they are, delegates to the conference of the Charity Finance Directors' Group will be told this week.
The message comes from Martin Brookes, chief executive of donor information organisation New Philanthropy Capital, who has a track record of challenging the sector over its performance and effectiveness.
"When it comes to measuring impact, charities suffer from a culture of avoidance and a lack of ability, and one reinforces the other," Brookes told Third Sector in advance of the 19 May conference. "I think they often don't have any place in the organisation where information about effectiveness resides. They don't have someone looking for the mistakes made or the lessons learned."
He said the lack of interest in the subject had been demonstrated when no operational charities stepped forward to help when the Institute of Fundraising decided to discontinue its funding for the Impact Coalition, which helps charities with issues of accountability and transparency. Chief executives body Acevo has stepped in to host it (Third Sector Online, 30 April).
"There are very few hard metrics to measure impact, and there are very few charities investing in developing these metrics," Brookes said. "Impact reports are often little more than PR exercises."
Richard Marsh, former director of the Impact Coalition, said in an article for Third Sector Online that charities had been keen to sign up as members, but were reluctant to translate promises into action.
"I fear that until we can demonstrate the cash or reputational benefits of being transparent and accountable, charities won't find the resources necessary to get the job done," he said.
"When it comes to transparency and accountability, maybe 10 per cent of charities get it. It's the oxygen they breathe and it permeates all of their activities. Another group, mostly medium and smaller charities, are really close to their stakeholders. They have to be transparent and accountable.
"The rest like the idea but, for whatever reason, the effect is that they are not doing very much beyond that which regulation requires."