Watchdog says third sector needs to improve standards of reporting

The Charity Commission recently reported that too many charities were “falling short” when it came to sharing their work in annual reports. The Commission reviewed 100 randomly selected reports and found that less than three quarters were of an “acceptable quality”.

Perhaps explaining why a gold standard remained so elusive, the Government watchdog also found that just 51% of charities understand what is required of them when reporting the public benefit of their work (something that differs depending on the size of the charity). Tellingly, the most common reason cited for inadequate reporting was that reports “did not explain the charitable activities the charity had carried out.”

Recent events have seen a huge dip in public trust for charities and people understandably want to see real-world results. While an annual report can still be a golden opportunity to prove a charity’s work is worth supporting, today we have an incredible range of comms tools at our disposal to share stories with the public. Does the Charity Commission believe that an annual report is the most effective means of doing this?

Whatever role it plays in your comms mix, it sounds simple enough – an annual report is a chance to demonstrate impact. We like to think less summary, more ‘so what?’ But perhaps some of the challenges come from a perceived lack of value or uses for the annual report. In a time-poor sector, how much resource can justifiably be poured into one document?

An annual report doesn’t have to be a compliance exercise. It doesn’t have to live and die on a website. The balance of simple stats to demonstrate the overall effectiveness of a charity alongside case studies that show individual human, environmental or other impact can resonate deeply with readers.

Consider some of the benefits of putting wider communications objectives at the centre of a compelling report:

  • A good PR professional can select the stories told to demonstrate impact in a report and maximise them through media, pinpointing the most suitable home for beneficiary stories
  • Campaigners can use annual report findings as a catalyst – building a case for change identified by the legacy of that years’ work
  • Service marketing strategies can stem from a report – are some services in need of more promotion or uptake than others?
  • Annual reports can provide ample social content – infographics, interactive segments, animations and short video interviews can bring impact to life
  • They can win awards! Start the job with an award in mind to keep innovation levels high.

By seeing an annual report as a springboard to wider publicity, we change the way it is approached as a project, making it work harder for stakeholders and adding value to the whole communications mix. So much incredible work goes on in the charity sector every year – it’s time to make sure everyone knows about it.

Written by Beth Andlaw
Vice-Chair of the PRCA Charity and Not-for-Profit Group
Barley Communications Associate