The theme of this year’s Charity Finance Week is “accounts and accountability”. Quite apart from the fact that this sounds pleasingly like a Jane Austen novel charting the coming of age of two aspiring accountants, the future direction of the annual report and accounts has been a big discussion point through the year, and we're seeking to facilitate this with a range of content in print, online and at events.
Media coverage of two large charities in the past couple of months has given a timely demonstration of the importance of accountability, albeit in contrasting ways.
One of these charities was RNLI, which was criticised in three newspapers for undertaking international work, as its donors purportedly expect their donations to be used in the UK. RNLI leapt impressively into rebuttal mode, sharing a detailed statement on social media which explained how only 2 per cent of its spending goes overseas, how it seeks specific funding for this work and how its founder, Sir William Hillary, had said its work on drowning prevention should be extended to “the most remote quarters of the globe”.
RNLI was also able to say that its international work had already been reported in detail in its annual report and accounts and on its website.
Contrast this with Marie Stopes, which faced criticism for giving its chief executive a 100 per cent bonus, doubling his income to £434,500. Putting aside whether or not this level of pay is morally justified, Marie Stopes gave itself little chance of redemption by failing to be clear about its remuneration policy.
A spokesperson told Civil Society News: “Last year, over 30 million women and men worldwide were using contraception provided by us and we averted an estimated 6.4 million unsafe abortions – our highest annual impact to date. The CEO’s total remuneration package is set by the board of trustees, as part of their duty to ensure our organisation has the best leadership in place to deliver against ambitious targets.”
This hints at some sort of remuneration process, but still leaves a lot of gaps in our understanding. The charity’s annual report and accounts provide even less detail.
It is plausible that Simon Cooke did an excellent job as CEO and truly earned his bonus in a way that a lesser paid CEO wouldn’t have been able to. But, for us as outsiders, we need a lot more information before we can be reassured that this was the case.
That is why transparency matters, and why charities such as Marie Stopes have a long way to go both in terms of their annual reporting, and their accountability more generally.
Gareth Jones is editor of Charity Finance