Only 55 per cent of benevolent charities produce a business plan, and very few budget for more than a year ahead, according to the first comprehensive survey of members by the Association of Charity Officers.
The ACO represents 210 organisations, many of which run care homes for their beneficiaries. Larger members include Help the Aged, Macmillan Cancer Relief and BEN. More than half responded to the questionnaire.
The survey's key findings were that most members - 90 per cent - now have a pension scheme, but IT investment and forward planning are neglected areas.
Ninety per cent of the 85 members that answered the question on forward budgeting budget for only one year at a time. One reason suggested for this was that two-thirds of staff who are charged with looking after a charity's finances (59 per cent of charities employ such staff) have other duties. The report concluded that this was an area where charities could pool resources.
Just over a third of those surveyed do not have their own computer networks and there was a general lack of awareness about IT issues. Roger Chester, head of finance and administration at chartered surveyors benevolent body Lionheart and the author of the survey and report, said: "Most organisations rely on IT systems. People are concerned about the theft of cash, but in many ways it's even worse if you lose data."
The survey revealed that 28 per cent of charities offer final-salary pension schemes, particularly those that provide care and social services and compete with the public sector for staff recruitment.
The report concluded: "Larger charities have for many years operated as businesses, and now smaller charities need to do the same."
Professor Paul Palmer of Cass Business School, who supervised the data analysis, said the survey was a "valuable mapping exercise" that had identified areas for research. He said one area that should be investigated was whether ACO members were subsidising the state.