The Charity Sleuths

What the Intelligent Giving researchers are uncovering, and whose turn it is to make the tea

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A case of mistaken identity

Mainly because we're getting through a laser toner cartridge every three weeks by printing off the electronic versions, we're increasingly asking charities to send us print copies of their Annual Report and Accounts. You would think that such a straightforward request would be followed by a straightforward reply and that would be the end of it.

Not so. Charities seem so bewildered that anyone is actually looking at their accounts that they keep sending us the wrong things (though we still appreciate the attempt). The Annual Review (a marketing document containing the charity’s achievements for the year and, if you're lucky, a summary of the accounts) is what we most commonly receive, but there have been others. Adam received a prayer book today.

One charity that cannot be accused of this is Kew Gardens who will make sure they send you the right document…for nine quid (we're printing that one).


Sister power

After berating the annual reports of religious charities (previous entry), Adam offered an aside that I think is worth sharing:

"These nuns only get £6000 per year!"

So while it's not the sisters' priority to write a document telling their benefactors how they run, they also don't prioritise their earthly reward for a life of service to the poor.

Worth reflection: the lowest charity salaries belong to the religious orders...


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Blind faith

After finishing reviewing the large charities dealing with cancer, I have moved on to the biggest religious charities and already have found a striking discrepancy: simply, the religious charities' reports are much worse!

This is not to say that the charities are worse, in the sort of work they do, how well they do it, how well they are organised etc - it would be impossible to compare these aspects directly as the charities are fundamentally different. However I am finding that the public documents - the annual reports and reviews - of the religious charities are far less professional and informative than those of the cancer charities.

"Religious charities may feel relatively secure in their income..."

Indeed, this is not just the case of charities of similar size. Already (I have only reviewed 20 or so religious charities) I am starting to anticipate a religious charity that spends £10,000,000 to have a report more lacking in essentials than a cancer charity spending £400,000.

Why is this? I cannot say for sure, but one possibility is that the religious charities, as they are in many cases funded by church congregations, may feel relatively secure in their income. Maybe, once they are 'on the books' of the churches, they do not have to try so hard.


Friday, May 19, 2006

Late again!

Having spent the last two months analysing the annual accounts of major UK charities (more interesting than it sounds…honest!), I have to agree with the Guardian (‘Charities are held to account’, Wednesday 17 May) that it is unacceptable that a quarter of all charities missed the deadline for submitting their accounts to the Charity Commission last year.

We are finding that charities often wait until the last possible moment to submit their accounts, when they do so at all.

How can the Commission be expected to monitor UK charities without the charities themselves pulling their weight? Answer: It can’t, and surely something should be done...


Thursday, May 18, 2006

A singular problem

Sherlock Holmes summed it up: "Chance has put in our way a most singular problem, and its solution is its own reward."

The problem that chance has put in our way is: the public cannot possibly judge which charity might be better than the next one. How do you know who to support?

Welcome to the diary of Intelligent Giving's three researchers - Neill, Adam and Dave (and a supporting cast of volunteers) - as we pore over the websites and Annual Reports of England and Wales' favourite charities.

Our aim: to offer the public, for the first time, an independent categorisation and evaluation of charities' reports and finances. We won't promise to find you the best charities but we'll certainly give you a good steer.

Our target is to review 700 charities before the year is out. And at a time that seems right beforehand we will launch our website, We have reviewed 150 so far. Will we make it before December 31 '06? What will we find? Astonishing efficiency? Egregious duplication? Black holes? Giant hounds?

"Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!"