A fresh phase for the transparency drive

Stephen Cook, editor

The main aim of the ImpACT Coalition is to "enhance the public's understanding of the voluntary sector through evidence and openness".

When it was first mooted, it hoped to persuade charities to pay to join.

By the time it was launched in July 2005, the payment plan had been dropped, but its founders said they hoped to sign up at least 100 charities by the end of that year. To date, it has succeeded in recruiting 70 charities, including most of the top 50 fundraisers, and has published six core principles, some extensive sample questions and answers, and a pro-forma presentation that people can use to advance its aims. It claims to have influenced the activities of Oxfam, the NSPCC, the British Red Cross and Cancer Research UK; and it has commissioned a media analysis that showed 16 per cent of coverage of the sector in national newspapers was negative - an encouraging figure, some would say.

The coalition's work so far has been done by a small number of people with busy day jobs. The Institute of Fundraising, one of the original sponsors of the coalition, has concluded that it needs more resources, and recently asked the Government for them. Now the institute has decided to use £50,000 of the strategic grant it's already getting from the Cabinet Office to set up an office and employ someone. This move has been welcomed by Campbell Robb, new director-general of the office of the third sector, who was another founder member of the coalition. Recruiting is under way.

The fact that Whitehall and the institute want to put money into the coalition suggests they think its aims are important for the reputation and progress of the sector in general. Some support for this view comes this week in the Global Accountability Index (see page five), which found that large NGOs are in general less transparent and accountable than large intergovernmental organisations and transnational corporations.

As the coalition enters this new phase, its main challenge is likely to be changing the mindset of those organisations that resist the need to be more open and proactive about matters such as fundraising and the precise nature of their spending. Another could be helping charities to get better coverage, not so much by 'taking on' the media - although that is sometimes necessary - as by working with the grain of it in ways such as those advocated recently by the excellent Voluntary Action Media Unit.

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