Charities will be unwilling to share details about senior executive pay and fundraising costs for fear that their peers will not follow suit, according to Kath Abrahams, director of fundraising at Breakthrough Breast Cancer and a board member of the Institute of Fundraising.
Abrahams was speaking from the audience at a session on trust for charities at the IoF national convention in London yesterday.
She was responding to Elizabeth Chamberlain, policy manager at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, who said from the platform that each charity had a responsibility to the public to proactively explain what it did.
Abrahams said: "I think you are being naive. The NCVO is in a position to do that, but if you’re a charity I just don’t think you’re going to do it and hope that everyone else does it. I just don’t think that’s going to happen.
"We’re asking the public for money every day of the week, and I am not going to want to take the risk."
She said that charities had to make choices every day about the things they talked about proactively and the things they omitted.
Joe Saxton, co-founder of the consultancy nfpSynergy, who was also part of the panel for the session, said that in the absence of a director of communications for all charities the solution was for a sector-wide initiative to educate the public about the sector.
He renewed his call – first made in 2012 – for a steering group to decide precisely how to portray charities to the media and the public.
Saxton said he agreed with the NCVO that organisations should publish details of their chief executives’ salaries as matter of best practice, but those details should be only one of 20 pieces of information that charities should provide on their websites.
"Don’t just have a box called ‘bad news that you really don’t want to know about a charity’," he said. "Have a box called ‘20 really interesting things that will make you excited’, such as case studies and explanations of why you’re spending what you’re spending on fundraising."
Adrian Sargeant, professor of marketing and fundraising at the University of Plymouth, said there should be a central website to address the fact that "there are some things that are easier for a third party to talk about than a specific organisation".
The website, he said, would include facts about the cost of fundraising, the cost of donor recruitment and retention, and resources to help answer the public’s questions about specific charities.