Transparency man

Richard Marsh, director of ImpACT, wants charities to be less nervous about explaining what they do.

Marsh: 'charities should be less nervous about explaining how they raise funds'
Marsh: 'charities should be less nervous about explaining how they raise funds'

The name of the ImpACT Coalition is an acronym of the coalition's aim to "improve accountability, clarity and transparency" across the voluntary sector, so it's ironic that - nearly two years after it was set up - many people in the voluntary sector are still confused about what it is.

Its purpose may be admirable, as well as necessary, but what remains unclear is how it hopes to achieve its goals. Dr Richard Marsh, who was appointed as the coalition's first director last month, hopes to shed light on the matter.

Marsh CV
2007 - Director, ImpACT Coalition
- Director of education and canon librarian, Canterbury Cathedral
- Acting chief executive, World Faiths Development Dialogue
- Secretary for ecumenical and international affairs, Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury

"ImpACT is a movement rather than an entity," he says. "It's a coalition of 70 to 80 charities that have come together to look at these issues and who explore ways these themes can be embedded in charities.

"Some will embed the ideas in governance; some will do it within fundraising. There's a fascinating variable geometry of possibilities."

This explanation is hardly crystal clear, but what Marsh lacks in terms of plain speaking, he makes up for in enthusiasm. Warming to his theme, he says: "It's not just restricted to charities. The impact of this sort of thinking actually spreads out in both public and private sectors. It's a really fascinating experiment."

Research has consistently shown that most of the public has little idea how charities really operate. A report from chief executives body Acevo in 2005 concluded that public faith in charities was based largely on myths and that it would take only a few scandals to shatter that trust.

An nfpSynergy poll last year seemed to confirm this when it revealed that 83 per cent of respondents believed it was unacceptable for chief executives to be paid £60,000 or more. "One of the things we want is to get information about how fundraisers and charities go about their jobs," says Marsh. "There is a level of public ignorance that is based on people's experience of dealing with charities, but I think it is changing.

"Charities need to be a lot less nervous in explaining how they raise their money and what work they do."

Marsh denies that the existence of ImpACT is indicative of a widespread malaise within the sector. "It's wrong to say it exists because people realise that they are not transparent - that there is an endemic opacity," he says.

"Charities are accountable in different ways, whether that be to their donors or trustees. However, sometimes they should stop and think about who they should be transparent to. It's learning to think of oneself in 360 degrees."

Apart from stimulating debate, Marsh also wants to see the coalition offering practical help. "ImpACT can be a disseminator of good ideas, a conduit," he argues. "Our first meeting will be a seminar in May, and I hope we will have a real bank of good practice and mini case studies.

"We will be looking at practical ways for charities to become more transparent and open, less on the back foot, more positive, more confident."

ImpACT at first aspired to charge a membership fee, but those plans appear to have been shelved. "I would resist a fee," says Marsh. "There are already demands on charities to pay them. It's not about putting money into the kitty; it's about being prepared to make change and embrace ideals - that's far more demanding.

"It's also about being prepared to share ideas and practice, including the things that go wrong. You can often learn a lot more when things go pear-shaped."

Marsh admits ImpACT won't bring about immediate change. "The need for ImpACT will be with us for a long time," he says. "It's not about sticking a plaster on a problem. You don't change cultures overnight."

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