Umbrella bodies to produce factsheets for journalists on how to report on charities

The documents will be designed to help mainstream journalists understand concepts including charity accounting

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Charity Finance Group are creating a series of factsheets for journalists to help them report on charities, including a detailed explanation of how to read charity accounts.

Andrew O’Brien, head of policy and engagement at the CFG, told Third Sector it was clear from the way certain newspapers covered the True and Fair Foundation’s report into charity finances in December that some journalists did not understand charity accounts.

O’Brien said the guidance would be distributed to mainstream newspapers and magazines to give their journalists information about issues such as the statement of recommended practice and the meaning of restricted and unrestricted income.

Commenting on the move, Ian Dunt, editor of the website, who speaks to charities when he writes about cause areas including immigration, civil liberties and social justice, said: "Instinctively, it comes across as patronising. I don’t see what is distinct between their accounts and anyone else’s."

But he acknowledged that the guidance could be useful and could end up receiving similar credibility to the reporting guidance the Samaritans produced around suicide.

The NCVO has also been working with the chief executives body Acevo as well as the Institute of Fundraising and the Charities Aid Foundation to set up a cross-sector group of charity heads of media.

Chloe Stables, external relations manager at the NCVO, said the group had met twice in recent months to discuss ways to encourage the media to cover stories about charities’ impact on society.

She said the group was pushing for more coverage of research about the sector and of initiatives such as Volunteers' Week and Giving Tuesday but was unable to share any examples of published stories that had resulted from the collaboration so far.

She said that a sector-wide group of public affairs heads was also being set up and that anyone in this role could join.

The NCVO and Acevo announced in October that they would work together to promote the positive impact of the voluntary sector among the public and journalists.

When it was announced, Acevo said the group planned to work with the Understanding Charities Group and did not intend to steal its thunder

But according to Vicky Browning, director of CharityComms and one of the main instigators of the UCG, the work previously spearheaded by the UCG will now be led by the NCVO and Acevo. The UCG steering group has ceased to meet as a separate entity, she said.

Asheem Singh, interim chief executive of Acevo, told Third Sector that Acevo and NCVO would be assembling its own "programme board" over the coming fortnight. This would be made up of media professionals and charity chief executives, he said.

"We’ll want the brightest and the best people who understand that we need to have a more grown-up conversation between the media and charities," he said. "They may be PR people, social media people or marketing and advertising types."

He also said that the two bodies had raised a small amount of funding from charitable organisations including foundations to take their initiative forward. He declined to say how much funding they had raised or name the organisations that had provided it.

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