The average length of the annual report and accounts at the 100 largest charities has increased by six pages in the past two years to 49 pages, according to research published in the October edition of Charity Finance.
Helena Wilkinson, partner and head of not-for-profit at accountancy firm Price Bailey, has reviewed the annual report and accounts of the charities that make up the Charity Finance 100 Index every other year for the past six years.
In the alternate years she has reviewed the next tier of 101-200.
Her research has found that in 2017, the average length of annual reports in the 100 Index was 37 pages, then 43 in 2019 and now 49 in 2021 – an extra 12 pages since 2017.
This is 70% longer than the 29-page average in the charities ranked in positions 101 to 201 that were reviewed last year.
However, this increase in length has coincided with increased transparency, with Wilkinson writing: “Reporting at the 100 largest charities has improved immensely since 2019 review.”
One clear sign of this, the article says, is the measuring success against strategy, rather than just publishing a list of achievements.
Almost all of the 100 largest charities, 96%, now outline their strategy and how they measure success against it in their trustees’ report, up from 76% in 2019.
Some 89% of charities in the largest 100 charities now report their effectiveness against targets set against their strategic objectives.
The trend for this to be clearly reported has also improved to 46% from 19% in 2019 and 12% in 2017. In the charities ranked 101-201, the figure was 23%.
“Having tracked the evolution of reporting to where the 100 charities are today, I can see the difference this kind of reporting style has made to show more transparency and accountability,” writes Wilkinson.
“I welcome the direction of travel and encourage charities to continue their journey towards effective impact reporting. The challenges are now for other charities outside of the largest 100, and some within this group still, to look at and change their reporting styles to follow suit.”
She points out the current Charities SORP consultation is considering whether impact reporting should be a requirement.
In Wilkinson’s opinion, it is “inevitable that more narrative information and disclosure is required in the trustees’ report for these charities as the next SORP is developed”.
Elsewhere, the review also found that 99 of the 100 charities published a remuneration policy.
However, the “vast majority continued to use bland boilerplate wording, merely stating that senior management salaries are reviewed and benchmarked”.
In total, 57 charities disclosed at the CEO’s pay, which was up from 55 in 2019. Of this, 18 charities disclosed full details of the salaries and benefits of the senior management team (up from 16) and a further 39 disclosed details of the CEO and/or their deputy, or the highest paid member of staff.
Just over three-quarters (75%) reported on their environmental impact. Not all the charities were required to do this, with 20 not registered as companies.
Wilkinson said that the fact so many did “shows the increasing trend for charities to consider their carbon footprint and disclose this information”.
Room for improvement
Despite the overall improvement in transparency, Wilkinson found that were still some areas that could be improved.
“Reporting at the 100 largest charities has improved immensely since the 2019 review,” she writes.
“There are still areas that require attention, such as more tie in on strategic objectives, more reporting on failures and lessons learnt, and for all charities in the sample to report on their environmental impact.
“It is encouraging to see how many charities have transformed their reports and I congratulate them on their efforts.”