Four ways your charity can improve its fundraising reporting

By Philip Satherley, former Policy Manager at the Fundraising Regulator

Trustees Week is an opportunity for existing trustees, or people who are interested in becoming a trustee, to take the time to learn more about trustee roles and responsibilities. Trustees are involved in all aspects of charity governance, from the development and implementation of campaigns and services, to having oversight of fundraising activities. There are certain things trustees must do to ensure their charity complies with the law and a key responsibility is producing the charity’s annual report and accounts.

If your charity is registered in England and Wales, and has a gross income of more than £1 million, it’s a legal requirement to include statements about your fundraising activity in your annual report as set out in section 13 of the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act 2016 (the Act). However, our recent analysis found that just 21% of charities that should, reported on all the fundraising reporting requirements in the Act. This shows many charities are missing the opportunity to tell their fundraising story through their annual report. 

Supporters, potential donors, funding bodies and other organisations are likely to want to understand how your charity fundraises and whether your activity is being carried out ethically. Although the Act requirements only apply to larger charities, all charities that publish an annual report should aim to share information about their fundraising in a comprehensive way.

Following our review into charities’ compliance with the fundraising reporting requirements, we’ve updated our guidance to support your charity to meet them. Here are over-arching points from the guidance you should consider when planning your annual report:

1.    Know the requirements

It’s an obvious starting point, but it’s crucial to be familiar with the fundraising reporting requirements in the Act. Many of the reports we reviewed did not include statements on all the required elements. We felt this was unlikely to be because the charity did not have a particular policy in place or lacked relevant data, but rather because of a lack of awareness that they needed to include the information. 

Even if your charity is not legally required to report in line with the Act, doing so will give your supporters more information about your fundraising activities, helping to build trust in your charity and the wider sector. 

2.    Explain how your fundraising is fair

Through our casework and research, we know most fundraising activities do not place undue pressure on donors, and most charities consider their impact on those who may be in vulnerable circumstances. However, our review found that while some charities did report on this, one in four did not include detail about their approach. Charities and their trustees have a responsibility to commit to the Code of Fundraising Practice which includes standards on protecting people in vulnerable circumstances. You should revisit these standards often and consider them when producing your report.

3.    Include clear and relevant detail

Our analysis found some reports that did not include enough detail to evidence a relevant policy or activity. For example, we found over half of charities reported on the number of fundraising complaints they received. However, charities shared less detail on how they reviewed practices as a result of complaints. Where this additional information was included, the data was brought to life and showed how the charity took complaints seriously. Even if your charity did not receive any fundraising complaints, you should still add this to your report.

4.    Use your charity’s unique voice

Trustees must ensure fundraising is conducted in an ethical way in line with the fundraising standards. As part of that, your charity should effectively communicate about the proactive actions it is taking to give reassurance to donors and the public. It was interesting to see the range of voices and styles used in the reports we reviewed, which varied depending on the charity’s purpose and key audiences. In my view, the Act’s requirements do not stifle a charity’s personality, rather they provide a framework around which you can report on your specific fundraising activities in your distinct style. 

Charity annual reports need to contain a lot of important information, but the writing of your report should not be considered a ‘tick box exercise’. The reporting requirements were introduced because detailed information about your fundraising approach can be of real value to the reader. I therefore encourage you to read our guidance which provides clarity on how to write clear and detailed statements, while maintaining your charity’s unique voice.