I find it both surprising and disturbing when sector leaders and leader of individual charities argue that the sector and its organisations should not have to be as transparent as the public sector and much of the business sector too. And indeed when some of them seemingly champion opaqueness and secrecy.
Charities - large and small, national and local - receive money from donors and some from the state in the form of contract payments and/or fees. In my view this requires them to be able to demonstrate their stewardship of this money as well has the impact they have used it to create.
Of course, often public sector contracts will require providers from whatever sector to publish their performance statistics but this is not always the case. It should be and the same requirements should be placed on charities, businesses and the public sector itself.
Transparency and openness should extend beyond how funds are used. Charities rightly are privileged in many ways including in respect of tax policy. As a collective group charities are held in high regard and trust by the public. This should not be used as a reason for complacency when it comes to strengthening this trust. Whilst trust is earned in many ways, openness and transparency are critical to securing and sustaining it.
The sector rightly claims to be value based and the overwhelming majority of charities are. They have to live these values and being open and honest surely must be core to this.
Simply filing annual returns to the Charity Commission simply will not do in an age of increasing expectations and demand for transparency and accountability.
Rather than wait for a future government to impose new requirements the sector should develop its own transparency standards and promote their adoption by all charities.The principle should be that charities believe in transparency and will adopt exemplar practice.I would envisage these standards to address amongst other matters include commitments to the publication of
- names and details of trustees and senior staff (where there are employees) and their register of interests - preferably on their web sites and for these to updated regularly
- the processes for appointing trustees and senior staff
- annual accounts and reports on line; and copies of their external auditors' reports
- details of major sources of revenue - where this is possible (anonymous donations could be handled in ways appropriate to the charity and the donor) on a quarterly basis
- all international sources of funding
- details major contracts both to supply services and for the purchase of supplies and services
- remuneration policy and the remuneration of senior staff and trustees (and their expenses with suitable commentary to make these useful such as their travel distances, specific project involvement, etc.)
- their mission and objectives with regular updates on measurable impact against these
and where there are service contracts with the public sector
- there should be agreement to publish the contracts and regular impact, operational and financial performance data
- the Freedom of Information Act should apply to charity providers of public services as well as their public sector clients
- contracts and their performance should be subject to independent external audit
- where there are joint ventures or sub-contracting arrangements with businesses the same standards will always apply
I am deeply committed to a strong and vibrant charity sector which will continue to add value to society by speaking out, advocating and providing research, education and services. I passionately believe that the sector has to demonstrate its values not by talking about them but through action. It also has to retain the trust, confidence and support of the public.
I genuinely believe that if the sector is transparent it will gain even more respect and ultimately influence and money and consequently make an even greater positive impact.