Why Charities Need Transparency, Now More Than Ever

By Amanda Rigali on

Clare McCullagh Profile

Clare McCullagh was Fellow for Canterbury Festival until September 2016, and has remained with the organisation as Development Assistant.

In my previous blog, I spoke of my desire to see greater transparency from charities.

What I didn’t go into is why there is a greater need for transparency. Note that I say need, not desire. Transparency and accountability are no longer optional elements of a charity’s existence.

Why now?

2015 was a difficult year for the charity sector with unfavourable attention in the media alluding to inefficiency and malpractice by charities. I won’t go into this any further – if you’re reading this blog, you’re most likely well aware of all that I’m referring to.

Although unwarranted at times, some of the scrutiny towards the charity sector has been necessary to bring about an overhaul of certain areas of the sector that aren’t working.

Stuart Etherington ReviewIn September 2015, Sir Stuart Etherington published his Review of Fundraising Self-Regulation which you can read here. The main point of discussion following the publication of this review was to consider the establishment of a new Fundraising Regulator, potentially by merging the Institute of Fundraising and the Public Fundraising Association.

This isn’t a time for charities to shy away. We must consider what’s to come and the proposed cost implications the establishment of this new regulator will have on some of us. Amanda Rigali details important points for consideration in her article ‘Is the Arts and Cultural Sector ready for Fundraising Regulation changes?’.

We should also be addressing the important question, have we lost people’s trust? And in the arts where some organisations are already struggling to gain trust and have the arts be recognised as a charitable cause, is it now a completely unreachable target?

No. We don’t believe in unreachable targets. We believe in the power of our art to engage, to act as the fuel for a strong and long-lasting relationship with our donors and our friends. However, this belief and passion will only be effective if we engage with ‘the donor relationship’ – something which is inextricably linked to transparency.

The Commission on the Donor ExperienceThe donor relationship is already at the fore of a lot of people’s minds with senior voluntary sector figures and more than 120 fundraisers setting up The Commission on the Donor Experience. The Commission will focus on six main areas through which to better understand our donors and to create plans for action and improvement. The Commission’s website is welcoming and positive, making a very clear call to ‘Join the Movement! Be the Change!’ It will be interesting to get involved and to see how the Commission progresses.

On our way towards greater transparency, we must also ensure that we’re at least undertaking the basics expected of a charity. I was shocked to read this article about poor charity accounting, which is damaging to our reputation at a time when we are already under scrutiny. Without the basics in place we can’t hope to get anywhere near transforming the donor experience

As well as managing the basics well, we should be keeping abreast of and adapting to key trends in the sector. In the Charity Times’ most recent issue, David Adams mentions a greater number of charities showing well produced impact measurement reports on their websites. He mentions Iona Joy of New Philanthropy Capital and how ‘she would like to see more charities working directly on operational and strategic changes that they could make following the analysis of impact measurement data.’ Although a daunting prospect for many charities that have never measured the impact that they have on their beneficiaries, there is help at hand as this area continues to grow, with advice from NPC and a wide range of online diagnostic tools available.

This will be already be on the minds of the London and South-East Fundraising Fellows who recently attended a panel with James Doeser on The Economic and Social Impact of Arts Activity and with Tom Andrews from People United on the Research and Evaluation of our work.

Even with our efforts to adapt and improve – the sector is always going to be subject to scrutiny, quite shockingly, even by ‘our own.’ By this I’m referring to the True and Fair Foundation’s recent report, A Hornets’ Nest. I would urge you to read it and the responses to it, one of which can be found here. We can’t make the scrutiny completely disappear. But we can be more transparent, more understanding of our donors and ready for the future of fundraising.

Please do get in touch and tell us about the ways you’re making your organisation more transparent, listening to your donors and measuring the impact of your work. We’d love to hear your views.

Posted by Amanda Rigali

Amanda is Director of Strategic Development at Cause4, and Head of the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy Programme. As well as running the Programme, Amanda runs fundraising training sessions for cultural professionals across England and offers intensive strategy support to a range of charities.

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