11th October 2019

A trustees’ report provides an opportunity for charities to highlight, celebrate, and advertise not only their achievements and public benefit, but also to consider the previous year, and provide a clear vision for the future. In the SORP 2015 report issued by the Charity Commission, changes were announced that required transparency and balance within trustees’ annual reports.

According to the Charities Commission, a good annual report “explains the charity’s aims and how it is going to achieve them.” On top of this, it states that it should meet all legal requirements and balanced view of the charity’s purposes structures, aims, objectives, activities, and performance; it should also offset the ‘technical’ reporting by “bringing the charity to life” and highlighting to donors how their money as spent, and who benefited from the donations.

However, it can be difficult to find harmony between being transparent and the report becoming long-winded. This creates the danger of important points failing to be highlighted, and risks people being disinterested in reading the report in full. In 2018, the Charity Commission echoed this concern, stating that charities weren’t doing enough to highlight their public benefit or how they spend their money, despite this information being contained within the trustees’ annual report.

How to effectively communicate within the trustees’ report

This indicates that messages are being lost in translation, and that charities are inadequately reporting their impact. To combat this, the Charity Commission report that positive examples of compliance within the trustees’ report included explaining:

  • why the trustees believed the charity has provided public benefit;
  • who had benefited from what they, the charity, had done;
  • whether there was a particular group of beneficiaries or if it was for the wider public;
  • the impact of what the charity had done, i.e. how they improved people’s lives.

By reporting upon these factors, the charity places the work they do within a real-world context that provides an emotional appeal to the reader, as opposed to solely scientific figures. It shows the reader that the charity has a credible reason to exist by communicating the impact that they have on people’s lives.

Creating the report

For the starting point, you can use the disclosure checklist provided to you by your auditors. This acts as the “skeleton” of the report; it contains the headings and topics that you have to cover. Assess what each section will consist of, and involve those who deliver on those services, as they are more likely to be passionate on communicating the work that they do. This will also make the entire process more manageable.

As we referenced in the previous Charity Bulletin, in order to effectively communicate your impact you need to understand your audience and stakeholders. When it comes to your service users, you need to learn about why they use your service and how it could be developed. This increases your credibility with potential donors, as it is showing that you recognise your weaker areas and are working on improving them.

On top of this, consider how you can make the report more appealing:

  • case studies – these add an interesting, real-world context to the report, and highlight the impact of your charity;
  • highlights section – for those who aren’t motivated to reach large blocks of text, this communicates the important information in a quick way;
  • financials – linking your impact to your financials with tangible examples is key to communicate your benefits to readers.

Finally, remember the trustees’ report is all about balance. In any given year, your charity will experience both successes and failures. Include these failures in your report, because it not only shows that you’re being transparent (leading you to being seen as more credible in the readers eyes), but it also shows that you take understanding and overcoming these failures seriously.

If you would like any further information or guidance, please contact Anne Hallowell, Charity and Not-for-Profit Partner, on 0191 243 6237 or at annehallowell@unw.co.uk

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