Clic Sargent's impact report of 2018 was a gamble for the youth cancer charity, but it paid off and was enthusiastically received by the sector, even winning the Best Use of Impact Reporting prize at the recent Third Sector Awards.
So as the team sat down to compile the 2019 report, which was released this week, what had they learned from last year’s version, and what could they do to ensure this difficult second album was even better?
The first thing it had to do, says Adam Petrie, assistant director of brand and strategic communications, was to put aside last year’s success.
"We had to forget about all the great things people had said about it, cruelly tear it apart and work out how we could raise the bar again," he says.
Last year’s report included the stories of three people who had used the charity’s services in the previous year, threaded through the report’s more factual analysis and explanations of its services.
"We talk about putting the voices of service users first, which is really important to us," Petrie says.
"But when we looked at last year’s report, we realised we’d still got ourselves in that space as well, that it was framed around the way we help, and it still felt like we were interfering with what they were saying."
So this year the beneficiaries’ stories are given their own section, right at the top of the report, which Petrie says he hopes will allow them to "speak loud and clear".
In a bid to improve transparency, the charity decided that a key element had to be including the information supporters actually wanted to hear about, not just what the charity wanted to tell them.
So they took to social media and asked supporters what questions they believed the organisation should answer. Their responses fed into the data that was included in the final report.
And this year’s report is not just divided into sections looking at what the charity got right and what it did not achieve. This year it offers information on The Good (the charity’s successes), The Bad (things the charity got wrong) and The Ugly (things the charity is angry about and believes it still needs to change in the wider world).
Petrie says the charity also tried to scale back the number of statistics included in the report, instead trying to showcase the number of people the charity reached, the impact it had on them and how much money it spent to do that.
He says: "We want the report to highlight the difference we make to people, not the organisation.
"Donors don’t donate to the organisation; they donate to the difference we make."
One statistic the report does not contain is how many pennies in each donated pound go to the front line, which is described in the report as a "flawed measure".
The charity’s chief executive, Kate Lee, has long been vocal about her opposition to the measure and calls it "a ridiculous stat that’s incredibly misleading".
She says: "The sector complains bitterly about that ratio and then does absolutely nothing about it, which drives me mad. We then perpetuate it by continually publishing it.
"In this report we’re pushing back, trying to say ‘if the reason you’re looking for pennies in the pound is to decide if we’re a cost-effective and efficient organisation, it won’t tell you that. What tells you that is the combination of reach, resources and impact.'
"I ask people: ‘Do you think it’s fair that we spent just shy of £15m on just short of 7,000 beneficiaries, and 72 per cent of those we worked with say we made a huge impact on their lives?’"
Lee is also a passionate advocate for splitting the impact report from the charity’s annual accounts, she says.
"The thing about being open or honest is that it’s not about putting those messages out where no one will ever find them; it’s about accessibility," she says. She adds that transparency information can often get lost among all the legally required information in the charity’s annual accounts.
And she says that far fewer people read accounts. Clic Sargent’s annual accounts are on its website and have been read about 300 times in the past year – mostly, Lee thinks, by grant funders and people applying for jobs at the charity. About a third of those hits happened around the time the charity was interviewing for a new chair.
About 2,000 hard copies of the last impact report were printed and sent out to trusts, partners and other supporters, and the charity plans to print a similar number this year. It is the main pillar of the charity’s fundraising efforts too, Lee says.
She hopes that, if the second report can cement the success of the first, it will go some way towards reassuring other charities that their role needs to be discussed for better or worse, and that, when done in the right way, transparency can be very positive for the organisation.
"As a sector we have this feeling about declining trust in charities," she says. "We don’t necessarily understand what the connection is between that and giving, or beneficiaries agreeing to receive help from us, but we have a general sense that declining trust in charities isn’t great."
With people using online platforms to fund beneficiaries directly, she says, there’s a risk that charities become "just an expensive jump" between donors and beneficiaries.
"If we don’t talk really honestly and positively about what we do add to that transaction – the fact that we’re regulated, the fact that we take out inequalities and the fact that we make sure money is distributed fairly and well and gets the best impact– then we’ll decline."