Third Sector Excellence Awards: Accountability and Transparency

MS Society
MS Society

For an organisation that has established the most effective channels of communication with and feedback from stakeholders, to allow them to gain a clearer and more comprehensive account of what the organisation achieves

Judging panel:
Rodney Buse, chair, Charity Trustee Networks
David Carrington, consultant
Penny Chapman, partner and head of charities, Bircham Dyson Bell LLP
Tris Lumley, head of strategy, New Philanthropy Capital

Kent Union
MS Society
School Governors' One-Stop Shop
Zurich Community Trust

Winner: The MS Society
The MS Society, which is the UK's largest charity for people affected by multiple sclerosis, combines modern phenomena such as YouTube with more traditional forms of communication to develop an open relationship with its supporters and stakeholders.

One of the most striking aspects of the charity's entry was the way it uses its website communicate with supporters. Besides providing lots of information on the charity and its work, the site has links to the charity's channel on YouTube,  as well as the organisation's MySpace page and an activist's blog. Judges described the site as clear, informative and accessible.

One of the main ways in which the charity encourages accountability is through its annual survey of anyone affected by MS. The survey asks respondents to comment on the charity's work and its structure as a membership organisation.
In 2007 and 2008, it ran the consultation online, at regional events and through its membership magazine. The list of suggested changes was put to the society's AGM, which was broadcast online, and received the support of 99.6 per cent of members.

To aid communication, the society publishes a membership magazine six times a year as well as an annual magazine summarising the latest research into MS. It also sends monthly email alerts to its supporters.
Board meetings are now open to all members and staff, and some board papers are published online. Question and answer sessions, in which people living with MS quiz decision-makers in the organisation through the web, have also been developed.

The charity was a founding member of the Fundraising Standards Board, the self-regulation scheme set up to encourage people to give with con-fidence, which demonstrated its commitment to being open about its fundraising practices.
The judges praised the unusual practice of giving organisational email addresses to trustees, making it easier for stakeholders to contact them. One judge described it as a model of transparency.

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