The Charity Commission has proposed setting up a new index that would tell the public how much charities spend on administration costs, and what the regulator and the sector considers to be a reasonable level.
At its public meeting in Bridgend, south Wales, yesterday, the commission's chair, Dame Suzi Leather, said the public's main concern about charities was the amount spent directly on causes.
Leather said she would like the commission to work with charities to set up a "good enough index" that would give the public an idea of how much of their donation was spent on a charity's cause. People wanted to know how much of the pound they donate went to the cause, she said.
"It would be desirable for us to build an agreed, 'good enough index' that the public could use and trust," she said. "I am under no illusions about the complexity of this, and it would not be a perfect index. But this issue is clearly front-of-mind for the public, so it should be front-of-mind for the sector too."
Leather stressed that the commission's role was to serve the public rather than to represent or champion the voluntary sector.
Also at the meeting, the commission's chief executive, Sam Younger, said he would not advocate raising the £5,000 income threshold below which charities are not required to register. "We asked about this in our public consultation and we got a resounding 'no' from the respondents," he said.
Younger also said the commission was considering whether to "release more resources for proactive work like scrutinising charities' accounts". He said the commission was looking at whether it should have a role in making sure charities were delivering on their aims and pledges.
The commission wanted the data it held about charities to be more easily accessible and was developing a "charity checker" smartphone application, he told delegates.