Members of the public are much more interested in reading about charities’ aims and beneficiaries than their financial details, according to new research.
Charity sector lawyer Rebecca Thompson undertook the research last year while she was studying for a master’s degree in charity management at St Mary's University in Twickenham, and her findings have been published in this month’s Charity Finance magazine.
Her research included an online survey of 188 people, face-to-face surveys of 212 members of the public, five focus group studies with 27 people, and interviews with three current and past members of the SORP committee, which sets the rules for charity accounting.
The survey participants were asked what information they would want to read about a charity in a key facts summary.
Some 70 per cent said they would want to read the aims of the charity and 71 per cent said they would want to know about the charity’s beneficiaries.
These were the only two topics the majority of respondents were interested in reading, with 50 per cent also wanting to hear about the charity’s projects.
By comparison, just 47 per cent wanted to see a breakdown of the charity’s spending, which was the highest scoring financial measure.
Other measures such as amount spent on fundraising costs and overheads scored much lower, on 18 and 14 per cent respectively.
Writing in Charity Finance magazine, Thompson said her results should help to allay charities’ concerns over the potential requirement for them to produce a key facts summary in their accounts.
She said: “The concern that the public is unable to understand summarised information seems to stem from the belief that the public is most interested in financial information, particularly costs ratios and pence in the pound analysis. The research painted a different picture.
“The focus groups were also interested in broad categories of spending and less focused on specific financial detail than the sector may have believed.
“Universally, the focus groups wanted information on aims, projects and how the work would help – effectively public benefit reporting – which was echoed by one of the SORP interviewees.”
Subscribers to Charity Finance magazine can read Rebecca Thompson’s full article here.