Don't yawn and switch off if accounts are mentioned

Your financial data is a vital part of your strategy, writes Caron Bradshaw

Caron Bradshaw
Caron Bradshaw

The image of 'charity' is on a knife edge. Over the years there has been a growing disconnection between what charity means to the average person in the street and the reality in the sector. We are a diverse sector - the only thing that holds us together is our drive for social change.

Government doesn't help, because it doesn't have a coherent view of our sector's role. It wants a major increase in the number of volunteers but seems oblivious to the management and infrastructure required to ensure that volunteers can deliver real value.

Boris Johnson's tale at the Evolve 2013 conference of his unappreciated childhood efforts to clean out his grandfather's duck shed illustrated this. The moral of the story was that help is valuable only when it is needed. Perhaps Boris missed how his own anecdote underlined some of the problems with the government's approach to volunteering.

Against this backdrop, expressing who we are as a sector is vital. A large part of how we do so rests with our annual reports and accounts. Sadly, these continue to be thought of by many as a compliance exercise to be dispensed with as quickly as possible.

Think about it: the Cup Trust coverage, questions by select committees about the salaries of chief executives, talk of administration costs, interviews with Gina Miller and Charlie Elphicke - all feature references to charity trustees' annual reports and accounts, the main data that the Charity Commission publishes about your charity. And, as my grandmother used to tell me, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Alongside the often negative coverage is the unrelenting drive for more data and disclosure. A massive piece of this reporting jigsaw is our charity Statement of Recommended Practice. Don't yawn and switch off; this stuff matters. How much and what information we include is a question of great importance.

The pressure for greater openness is no bad thing, but volume will not necessarily lead to transparency. The question of what we disclose cannot be considered in a vacuum. We have to respond to the difficult questions levelled at us, not back away from them. We are sometimes guilty of dismissing critics as 'misinformed' or 'ignorant', because they are not of the sector.

Data cannot provide all the answers, but it can prompt all the right questions. Think strategically about the information you collect and report on. Our data should help us think about what we're doing and whether it's working. Reconsider whether we're giving enough weight to the challenges that those who fund us are entitled to make.

Earlier this month, the revised Sorp was published for consultation. This is not something to just 'leave to your techies'. There are a lot of technical areas to consider, but the principles apply to us all.

We at the Charity Finance Group are running a series of briefings and will be gathering views. I urge you to get involved, because if we don't shape the direction of travel, we can't complain if we don't like where the journey takes us.

Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of the Charity Finance Group

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