The Charity Sleuths

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

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Status report

We've been very busy, hence the silence for the last month. We look set to hit our deadline of 1 November. We currently have a three-quarter-built site, which we are user-testing, with the following attributes:
  • Over 1150 pages
  • 967 charity profiles uploaded
  • 267 detailed charity profiles uploaded
  • 27 original articles received/written; 12 uploaded
  • Searchable listing of 100+ experts' recommendations in place
  • Searchable listing of over 100+ award-winners in place
  • Searchable listings of volunteering sites, challenge event sites and"where to give stuff away" charities in place
  • Charity search & filter functionality working
  • Personalisation module working
  • Comment module working
  • Discussion board working
  • Consistent design applied across 90% of pages

Monday, September 11, 2006

Why annual reports?

People ask us why we put so much stress on annual reports rather than web sites, since the latter are written for the public. The answer is simple:

Websites are not useful tools to compare charities. Each is very different, created for different purposes (some to help beneficiaries rather than to inform donors, for example), there's no statutory guidance on what should be in them or what they are for, and they can cost a lot of money to build and maintain. So if we compared by website we'd penalise charities that don't understand, or can't afford to create, or don't need, a research-friendly web site.

The annual report meanwhile is the legal document that all charities ought to know how to write. It's the only document they have to produce by law and the only one which has comprehensive guidance on what it should contain. It has certain types of information that no other kind of publication will carry. For example, the top salary, who the trustees are, the risks facing the charity - generally information that organisations don't willingly disclose. It's the only place where the nuts and bolts of the organisation should be described.

It has been suggested that we also look at charities' Annual Reviews. Well, we do, where they exist and when they are referred to in the annual report. But very few charities actually produce them and, again, there's no guidance on what they should contain.

Do tell us if we're repeating ourselves.


Friday, September 01, 2006

The contents of our charity review pages

The review page template is still being designed but these are the elements we are planning for it:

The page will be headed by the charity name, eg "FARM-Africa"

There will be a headline, eg "FAIR HARVEST FROM AGRICULTURE PROS"

Then a paragraph eg:
"A crew with big ideas, working with everyone from community groups to the World Bank to help African farmers manage their land more efficiently. A well-rounded annual report suggests it's in a strong position all round, with money in the bank and plans for the future, although the report could benefit from more detail of activities."

Then some figures and relevant smiley graphics (yes) to indicate:

  • The quality of the reporting (pivoting on the quality of the annual report) (%)
  • The number of months of expenditure in reserves (# months)
  • Whether or not there is an ethical investment policy (Yes/No/No investments)
  • The organisation's highest salary (no smiley used here)
Each of these entries will have a link called what is this? leading to an explanation.

A lower-profile section called "Misleading figures" will contain (no smileys):
  • Administration costs (%)
  • Fundraising costs (%)
  • Charitable expenditure (%)
Each of these entries will have a link called Why misleading? linking to an explanation.

Then the heading, "If you like this charity, you might like these" followed by five similar charities.

Then a section called "The charity replies" where the charity can write 50 words of its choice.

And finally a link to the annual report, to the GuideStar entry, to the charity's website and to the charity's donations page (on its own website).

Behind this page there will be two more tabs with more financial details and more ways to help (volunteering and challenge events, as provided by the charity).

Responses welcome via the comments option...