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                        This Home-page summarises what we do, and the resources available.
                        Click on the titles below to go straight to the relevant web-page for more information

 

SaysOnTinLQ2

About Us - "We do what is says on the tin".

An overview of the various ways that Small Charity Support "does what it says on the tin" - ie: offers a friendly ear and some practical experience gained from 10+ years of providing pro bono support to help trustees, volunteers and staff of "small" charities (eg: annual incomes less than £250,000) through those "difficult patches" that inevitably crop up from time.
Small Charity Support also produces numerous (more than 40 at the last count) free-to-download-and-use guidance leaflets covering many of the issues encountered by the trustees of small charities.

Visit this web-page for information on "face-to-face" services, eg: HelpLine, Mentoring, Training.

Small Charity Support is a registered Charitable Incorporated Organisation - 1161963

Trustees ResponsibilitiesSmallCharityTrustees

A collection of pragmatic guidance leaflets on the responsibities of charity trustees:
   ♦ what the legal jargon means in practice;
   ♦ pragmatic suggestion & options for complying with those responsibilities;
   ♦ tips on where the major pitfall are and how to avoid them;
   and what you could do if you fall into them.

ProgrammePlanningProgramme Planning

Creating a programme plan is often seen as just "red-tape bureaucracy" to "tick a box" and then sit forlornly on a shelf.   Hence the old adage "Charities don't plan to fail ... They simply fail to plan".
Good planning doesn't just help a charity to achieve its objects more efficiently & effectively.   Even more importantly it allows the charity to demonstrate its successes to its beneficiaries, volunteers, staff and the public (AND its donors & funders).   Great for boosting morale and improving performance all round.

MoneyMgmnt3Managing the Money Made Easy

This webpage - sub-titled "Simple is Beautiful" - explains how "ordinary" volunteer Trustees, without any special financial expertise, can set up their small charity accounts to be easy and understandable to all.   The webpage includes a free-to-download-and-use spreadsheet showing how those principles can be put into practice.   And it is accompanied by an example spreadsheet illustrating how real charities, with real data, are using it not only to manage their day-to-day financial records and internal management reporting but also to produce their end-of-year accounts ready to cut-and-paste straight into their annual returns to the Charity Commission.

GuidanceDocs2Example Policies

Every charity needs a collection of Polices & Procedures to guide its day-to-day activities & governance.   But starting with a blank sheet of paper and “reinventing the wheel” can be a lengthy and tedious process.   So it is hoped that this collection of example policies - most of which have themselves been modified from the policies of others - will simplify the process a little by providing some ideas to get you going.   Every charity is, of course, different.   You will therefore need to adapt them to suit your own particular needs and situation.

Starting a CharityStartingACharity

 This web-page has a series of leaflet is intended to give you just a quick overview of the things that you will need to take into account in setting up a new small charity - ie: annual income not likely to be more than £200,000 in the first few years of the charity's operation.   It also offers some suggestions and guidance on completing the Charity Commission's on-line application form.
But note: they are NOT a professional opinion or a full and comprehensive guide to Charity Law and all the associated regulations.   They are just a simple overview of the main points for those who want to set up a small charity to serve their local community or to help those with a particular area of need.

QuizBoardQuiz ScoreSheet

NOT one of Small Charity Support's usual resources.
Just a bit of fun.   A spreadsheet to help charities (and other NfP organisations) which run Quiz Evenings as a social and/or fundraising activity.


CommentsUser Feedback

 Some recent unsolicited comments from people who have used Small Charity Support's resources

 

Searching2Other Resources

The charity sector is large and diverse.   So Small Charity Support's resources won't be appropriate for all charities.   This web-page provides links to other web-sites with other resources which might be more useful.   They all have good reputations, but Small Charity Support hasn’t itself tested and verified everything which they have on offer.   Similarly, the absence of a website from the list DOESN’T mean that it should be avoided.

ThoughtsCharity Thoughts

This web-page contains a collection of more general "thoughts" ("blogs") provoked (and sometimes inspired) by some of the issues that Small Charity Support has helped other small charities deal with.

PrivacyNoticeIconPrivacy Notice

Like most websites, the software used to create the Small Charity Support website uses “cookies” to manage the way that visitors use the site.   These “cookies” are used purely by the website software for technical purposes to improve the efficiency of the site and to collect anonymous data on the numbers of people visiting the various pages of the website.   Small Charity Support does not collect, analyse or use "cookies" for any other purposes.
For more information, visit the Privacy Notice web-page.

 

 

Feel you’d like some help ?.......
Why not contact us at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
with a brief description of what you want help with?
All enquiries are handled in complete confidentiality
(but, obviously, don't include any sensistive/personal information in your enquiry).

There’s no obligation,
and we’ll be glad to see what we can do for you.
 

SCAN 1

 

 

 

SCAN 3

 

 

 

Who we are, and what we do

 

Provide charity independent examination services to small charities with a turnover usually below £100k pa which do not legally require an audit.

Also help and advise small charities on basic bookkeeping, final accounts preparation and management accounting if required. But not to actually do it for them.

Recruit, develop and support unpaid Independent Examiners to serve small charities in their own area and beyond.

 

We are the Small Charity Assurance Network”   -   SCAN.

 

To request:   an Independent Examination,     or
                     help with bookkeeping, accounts preparation or management accounting,   or
                     about joining our team as a volunteer

e-mail us at      This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.     or
                        This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

SCAN 2

To examine or look over carefully

 SCAN SC

Small Charity   -   the £100k formula:
< £100k Income,    < £100k expenditure,    < £100k assets

SCAN A 

Assurance   -   refers to the assurance given by professionals regarding the validity and accuracy of reviewed documents and information. "We exercise great care to make these assurances but assert that what was reviewed is accurate because nothing contradicting this claim exists".

Assurance in auditing refers to the opinions issued by a professional regarding the accuracy and completeness of what's analysed. For example, an accountant assuring that financial statements are accurate and valid asserts that they have reviewed the documents using acceptable accounting standards and principles.

It also refers to a service rendered by a professional to confirm the validity and accuracy of reviewed documents and information.

SCAN N 

Network   -   Interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional contacts and share knowledge, experience and expertise.

Simple Accounts Spreadsheet
Comments from a User

I came into our small community managed library when the treasurer of the time decided to step down.   It was an amicable departure and he took me through the series of Excel separate spreadsheet that he had put together for the task.   They did the job well for a small operation like ours.

There was a high level of granular detail being analysed for what was a small operation.   Reporting concentrated on quarters that were brought together at the end of year.   End of year data was assembled and transferred over to a separate format for sign off and reporting.   I struggled to follow the detail information flows between these individual spreadsheets particularly round a series of grants with different conditions and found that it was easy for me to be inconsistent as data was updated in one place and then manually transferred.   I did not feel I wanted to provide hard linkage between them that would, while reducing one source of discrepancy, created a system that would resist change as well as generating its own opportunity for mistakes and inconsistencies.

I ran this system for a year to get to grips with it and understood both how it worked and where data from it was used.   I produced a flow chart of the information and data transfers to aid my understanding.

Towards the end of the first year, I started looking at charity finance systems to be ready for the next year.   There were many around usually based on membership systems.   Some linked membership to marketing.   Most were outside our budget.   I realised that their cost might be justified for large charities but were unrealistic for us.

From my professional engineering life, I was also wary of systems that were tailored to your own environment that would limit freedom of activity especially when we were a service organisation where membership was not a key feature.   I was also aware that Charity Commission documentation, while very detail and comprehensive, totally appropriate for a national body, was less than helpful to us looking daunting and unappealing to someone considering becoming a team member with us.

This was the point that I found and made contact with Small Charity Support.   They appeared to be an organisation that was trying to influence the wider charity world to understand that processes for large organisations were unhelpful at our size.   I was a spreadsheet person and did not feel confident to put together a schema for a database.   I was also not an accountant by profession and felt I wanted to resist the more formal methods necessary in Company reporting.   Whatever I did would need handing on at some stage

The Small Charity Support multi-tab spreadsheet appealed to me.   It was intuitively simple while carrying data around its tabs so that it only had to be entered once.   Errors could therefore be reduced.   It took a short while to understand the places where data could be entered and modified and where formulae lurked behind to make this unwise.   Yet it had the flexibility to name and assemble category lines to represent our own operation.   I also found that I could insert more of my own sheets to summarise and control information in one place and so reduced the separate spreadsheets outside this workbook.

The thing that appealed to me most was that I could request colleagues to submit expenses, enter them and then use the budget reporting to generate immediate reports to our Trustees and Committee colleagues every month with no additional effort beyond printing a PDF and mailing it out where previously this had been quarterly.   Reporting increased threefold to help decision making.

I am aware that more lies behind this workbook than I use but that fits our principle of promoting our dedication to service against time spent in administration.   I took a decision early on the simplify the analyses done and stick to simple Receipt and Payments process that is sufficient for our Library operation.

So far, I have no regrets and our whole Committee now tries to put our service users before granular analysis.

JC    24 Feb 21

 

The “Support Costs” Dilemma

Charity Commission guidance on financial reporting (eg: for the Annual Accounts, whether in Accruals or Receipts & Payments format) requires “Support Costs” and “Direct Costs” to be identified separately.

That requirement to report “Support” and “Direct” costs separately creates questions about how high can (should) a charity’s “Support” costs be in relation to its “Direct” costs, and does that depend on the size (ie: annual income) of the charity?   That question can be particularly perplexing for the trustees of small charities if it leads them to feel that their charity is, somehow, not working efficiently or “properly” if its “Support” costs are “too high” compared to its “Direct” costs.
For the record – the “Support” costs of Small Charity Support account for almost all of its “Total” costs – ie: its “Direct” costs are insignificant in comparison.

The definitions of Support & Direct, taken from the SORP 2015 guidance are:

Governance costs are the costs associated with the governance arrangements of the charity.   These costs will normally include internal and external audit, legal advice for trustees and costs associated with constitutional and statutory requirements, for example the cost of trustee meetings and preparing statutory accounts.
Included within governance costs are any costs associated with the strategic as opposed to day-to-day management of the charity’s activities.   These costs will include any employee benefits for trusteeship, the cost of charity employees involved in meetings with trustees and the cost of any administrative support provided to the trustees.

Support costs are costs incurred to facilitate an activity.   Unlike direct costs, which result directly from undertaking the activity, support costs do not change directly as a result of the activity undertaken.   Support costs include the central or regional office functions, such as governance, general management, payroll administration, budgeting and accounting, information technology, human resources and finance.

The notion in the guidance that "support costs do not change directly as a result of the activity undertaken" seems to be a bit misleading.   Instead, the more relevant characteristic of "support costs" is that they are costs which are common to a number of otherwise only loosely related activities of the charity.   ie: “support” costs are the costs of resources which are used by more than one charity activity.
So of course, a 50% change in the level of just one of those activities will NOT necessarily cause a 50% change in the charity's "support" costs (if by that is meant the charity's TOTAL support costs – across ALL activities).   It will only change the charity's total "support" costs in proportion to that individual activity's "share" of the total cost.   Or to put that in more "mathematical" terms:
An individual activity is responsible for only 10% of the charity’s total support costs.   If that activity increases (or decreases) by 50% (ie: a significant amount) its share of the total support costs increases (or decreases) by only 5% (ie: to 15% or 5%) – ie: a much less significant amount.  
{If one is being mathematically pedantic that is not quite accurate – but is close enough for the purposes of this explanation}.

Nor will a change in an activity necessarily affect all elements of the charity's core costs equally:  An increase in staff numbers would create an increase in payroll and HR costs but not in accommodation/office costs if those extra staff were field-workers not requiring core office space.

For a charity which has only one significant activity – ALL the "support" costs of the charity are the "direct" costs of that one charitable activity.

In other words – the "perplexity" of "support" costs is not that they are somehow a sign of rather unseemly mismanagement of charity funds – to be "swept under the carpet" whenever possible – eg: to avoid donors (and others) thinking that charity funds are being wasted.
Instead, the issue is simply how best to allocate a "fair share" of those "support" costs as "direct" costs of the activities to which they relate

In any charity, minor fluctuations in workload – whether confined to one specific area of that charity's activities, or spread across the board – are likely to be absorbed in the short-term rather than triggering untimely (and potentially expensive) responses – eg: making some "support" staff redundant or taking on additional  "support" staff (particularly if there is a reasonable expectation that the work-load will bounce back to normal in the longer-term).   So, in that context (for numerically pedantic bean-counters) the "value for money" delivered by a charity – ie: benefits to those in need for the money given by donors – will constantly be varying slightly.

And in charities where the services provided to beneficiaries are intangible (eg: support, advice, guidance) and provided free of charge by volunteers (as is the case with Small Charity Support), most, if not all, of its costs are " governance, general management, ......, budgeting and accounting, information technology, .... and finance " – ie: are "support" costs rather than "direct" costs.
Does that make such charities profligately mis-managed ?

At what level "support costs" become excessive in comparison to "direct activity costs" did become a rather contentious public issue a few years ago when there was a bit of an outcry about the salaries being paid to the CEOs of some charities.   In 2013 the Church Times reported that "...among religious charities, the median pay of the top earners was £186,000-£193,000", and specifically identifying the then CEO of Christian Aid as earning £126,206pa prompting William Shawcroft (the then Chair of the Charity Commission) to say:
"...trustees should consider whether very high salaries are really appropriate, and fair to both the donors and the taxpayers who fund charities. Disproportionate salaries risk bringing charitys and the wider charitable world into disrepute."

It's a pity that he didn't go on to make any reference to the even larger CEOs' salaries of some other non-religious charities, eg: Nuffield Health, which at that time was £770,000/year – in addition to which its trustees were, collectively, paid £212,996 just for being trustees.

There was also a public backlash against aggressive fundraising practices eg: chuggers ("charity muggers") – accosting people in the street to "cajole" them into making donations to charity from which the chugger got a significant "share" (ie: "commission") from the donation.   In some cases – the question "how much of my donation goes to the charity?" was answered – quasi-truthfully – "All of it!" (but neatly omitting to explain that the charity then paid back the commission from the donation obtained by the chugger).
That kind of disingenuous fundraising tactics was further brought to public attention by a high-profile (over 5 million views) talk on the TED show by Dan Pallotta - "The Way we Think About Charity is Dead Wrong?" - in which he, effectively, argued that it didn't matter what percentage of donations a fundraiser took as "commission" provided that he/she had raised more money (after deduction of the fundraiser's commission) than the charity had previously been able to achieve without such "professional" assistance.

It was not long after that that the UK Fundraising Regulator was created (in 2016) and more emphasis was put on the obligation of charities to report how much of their income had been spent on fundraising costs (and Dan Pallotta's fundraising charity went out of business).

So, although things seems to have improved since then, it is very understandable that donors to charities still want reassurance that their donation – or at least a "reasonable" portion of it – will actually end up "in the hands" of the intended beneficiaries – metaphorically if not physically.

The problem comes when people think that delivering benefits to those in need is (or should be) a cost-free operation – ie: ALL of their donation should be spent on what the beneficiary receives "in their hand", NOT on paying those needed to deliver those benefits.
Take a charity where its charitable objects include providing medicines for people who are ill and can’t afford them:   even if all its donations went to providing medicines for those beneficiaries, what proportion of the cost of those medicines would be the actual costs of the physical medicines taken by the recipients and what proportion would be the "support costs" of the pharmaceutical companies providing those medicines? – general management, advertising & marketing, payroll administration, budgeting & accounting, information technology, human resources, finance (to say nothing of the "generous" commercial salaries to CEOs and profits to shareholders !)?
Would (or should) the trustees of that charity be equally baulking at paying for such medications because "their support costs were disproportionately high"?
And would (or should) the donors to that charity be equally baulking at their donations would be used to buy such medications because "their support costs were disproportionately high"?

It actually doesn't matter whether twe are talking about direct costs or support costs.   The responsibility (ie: the legal responsibility) of trustees is to ensure (to the best of their ability, in good faith) that ALL their charity's resources are being used wisely (ie: Efficiently, Effectively, Economically – and also Equitably, Ethically and Ecologically) to deliver the maximum possible benefits to the charity's beneficiaries.
The hard crunch is that, if having reviewed all the possibilities, the trustees collectively (ie: the majority) still feels that the maximum possible benefits don't represent "value for donors' money" then the only alternative is to do nothing – or find something completely different to spend the money on (provided that "completely different" is still within the charity's registered charitable objects).   And if individual trustees feel that, in good faith, they cannot go along with the majority view of their fellow trustees then their only alternative is to resign as a trustee.   And, of course, in the case of individual donors their only alternative is to stop donating to the charity (an outcome which the trustees always have to consider carefully).

At the end of the day, the only "benchmark" for the appropriate/acceptable proportion of "support costs" to "direct costs" is that the majority of trustees – having carefully considered all the pros and cons of the various alternatives – feel that proportion is acceptable in the best interests of the charity and its beneficiaries and donors.   And, provided that consideration has been properly documented in the minutes of trustees' meetings, my experience to date is that the Charity Commission will accept that as "evidence" that the trustees have properly fulfilled their legal (and moral) responsibilities and will not take any action against them even if it subsequently turns out that some better alternatives might have been available after all.

That is not an easy position to get over to trustees, requiring not just hard factual evidence but also considerable social charm and credibility (particularly in a social climate where being a "denier" is now almost "fashionable").

In short:   There is no benchmark that Small Charity Support is aware of for the optimal or maximum relationship between "Support" costs and "Direct" costs.   Nor does it seem, realistically, that there ever could be such a benchmark, given the diversity of charities.   If there were such a benchmark it is likely that Small Charity Support would fail it miserably, given that its "Support" costs are almost 100% of its total costs.

In order for a "benchmark" to be meaningful it has to be universally applicable.
For charities with annual incomes over £250,000 (eg: the SFLG) which have to submit their annual financial reports on a accruals basis, there are strict "rules" (set out in FRS-102 and the SORPon how a charity's costs – governance costs, operating costs, fundraising costs, charitable activity costs – are to be identified and reported.

The most recent (undated, but appears to have been 6 years ago in 2015) Accounts Monitoring Review referring to Governance costs was published (undated,  by the Charity Commission publishedealing with Governance Costs

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/477927/amr_high_governance_costs.pdf

As you say, from one perspective Small Charity Support's operating costs are nearly 100%

Charities are too diverse, both in their charitable objects and the way that they are run, for such a benchmark to be meaningful.   But, even more importantly, such a benchmark is as impractical as the old "apples and oranges" conundrum ( http://thekmiecs.com/misc/the-comparison-conundrum/ ).   Regardless of how a charity ACTUALLY spends its money, the final numbers reported – proportion spent on this, proportion spent on that – depend on how the writer of the report chooses to interpret the importance and role of the "this" and the "that".

Back in 2013 there was a high-profile (ie: millions of views) presentation by Dan Pallotta on "TED" ( https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pallotta_the_way_we_think_about_charity_is_dead_wrong?language=en ) arguing that it is better to spend £400,000 on fundraising (40% of the £1,000,000 raised) to deliver £600,000 to charity.   Because a charity which "frugally" cuts its fundraising costs to £40,000 in order to pay a lower percentage (10%) to the fundraiser only gets £360,000 delivered to the charity (ie: £400,000 raised, less 10% for the fundraiser) instead of £600,000.   But that rather overlooks the fact that while the charity gets an extra 60% in donations (£600,000 instead o of £360,000) the fundraisers get a 1000% increase in the amount they earned (£400,000 instead of £40,000).   Question: – so who is the "real" winner – the charity's beneficiaries (60%) or the charity's fundraisers (1000%)?
As irony would have it, Dan Pallottas' fundraising business has long-since gone out of business because big funders refused to give grants to charities which used Dan Pallotta's "charitable" fundraising services.   And the public also started to realise that "bigger is better" when applied to spending more money on "charity professionals" (with similar arguments being applied to escalating/exorbitant salaries being paid to "big" charity CEOs) is more about "rip-off Britain" rearing its ugly head again that the public becoming more "socially aware".

So it's more about "the icing on the cake" (how one window-dressed the charity's finances in its Annual Accounts) and how it explains why it spent its charitable funds in the way that it did.

My experience of the Charity Commission (for what it is worth, given that it only occasional looks at less than 1% of charity accounts to check that their funds have been properly spent) is that, provided that the trustees can demonstrate that they have "acted in good faith for what they perceived to be the best interests of the charity" they are far more likely to be "excused" for having made bad mistakes than trustees who have made more minor mistakes out of carelessness and negligence.
So For example, it the SFLG was only only able to spend money on a particular project because of the support work done by paid staff to ensure that project is viable and delivers "value for money", doesn't that mean that the money spent on that administrative support count as "charitable activity" in the same way as the activity itself.
Or put that the other way round:   if you were to ask those arguing for "frugality" – "OK – if we were to reduce the amount spent on administrative support, in what way would you spend the money saved that  demonstrably delivered more an/or better benefits to our beneficiaries?".   It's another old conundrum – it's easier to criticise others than to present a better solution yourself.

 

 

Charity Financial Reporting Standards
lawyerNot Fit for Purpose ?!

Please read our legal notice
This "Thought" was first published in July 2021, and was subsequently updated in September 2022 {see below}

 This "Thought" is about how charities are currently required to report (and, by implication, manage) their finances.
It is a summary of a much longer (35 pages) article which provides more detailed evidence for why charity financial reporting standards are "Not Fit for Purpose".   That article can be downloaded by clicking HERE.

In November 2020 the article was submitted to the "Smaller Charities and Independent Examiners" Engagement Strand of the recent SORP review which commented:  "the thrust of your concerns about the current provisions of the SORP very much chime with our own".

The Charity Commission seems to be of the same opinion.
In a letter to the Financial Reporting Council
(25 May 2021), the Commission said:
"The focus of accounting standards is very much on the interests of the providers of risk capital to for-profit businesses.
Charities are established for the public benefit and not as owner managed for-profit businesses and, although welcome, the PBE paragraphs are proving insufficient in addressing the reporting needs of the users or charity accounts and avoiding for-profit orientated disclosures detracting from the quality and character of public benefit accounting and reporting.
"

And Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of the Charity Finance Group, is reported as saying:
“The government’s drive to increase trust and transparency is to be welcomed by all.   However, we need to break this long but flawed habit of shoehorning charities into regulation and legislation designed for the for-profit world to avoid the unintended and harmful consequences such an approach brings about for the third sector.

 

The preparation of a charity’s financial accounts, and (for charities with incomes over the relevant threshold) having those accounts verified by audit or independent examination, is seen as one of the fundamental corner-stones of assurance to donors and the public at large that monies donated to charities are being used Efficiently, Effectively and Economically for the charitable purposes for which they were given.

In 2016 a survey by Populus commissioned by the Charity Commission had found that, at 57%, public trust in small charities was considerably higher than the 34% public trust in large charities.

In 2018, Populus was again commissioned by the Commission to undertake an independent survey of public opinions of the charity sector.   The survey found that being “transparent about where money goes” was the most important factor in promoting public trust in charities.

But the most recent (August 2019) review by the Charity Commission of charity annual reports & accounts found that:

  • less than half (44%) of the annual accounts of small charities (incomes in the range £25,000-£250,000) complied with its benchmark standards;
  • Larger charities were more, but still not fully, compliant with the standards;
    Charities with incomes in the range £250,000-£1,000,000 were only 51% compliant;
    Charities with incomes over £1,000,000 were still only 75% compliant

In other words:  the Charity Commission’s own reviews show that the more compliant charities accounts are with complicated (obfuscational) accountancy standards the LESS likely they are to be regarded as “transparent and trustworthy” by the public.

The Charity Commission's August 2019 review went on to report that of the 296 charity accounts examined 135 (46%) were found to be "not meeting the criteria".   And of those, 111 (38%) had been Examined by a qualified member of one of the bodies listed by the Charities Act 2011.

A still more recent (March 2021) survey of trustees’ views of the SORP accounting standards by the Chartered Governance Institute reported the following comments from trustees (many of whom were reported as having qualified accountancy expertise):

  • “I just think the amount of financial information that has to be provided is too extensive.
    Note that the entire SORP runs to 203 pages and the index alone runs to 7 pages.”
  • “It is too long and complicated for a non-financial trustee.”
  • “The current presentation of financial figures is more difficult for nonfinancial practitioners who have to work quite hard to get an overall picture.”

In other words:
It is self-evident from these diverse reviews that the current reporting standards for charities are not fit for purpose – particularly for the majority of “small” charities.

 

Albert Einstein
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”.

The problem of current charity accounting/reporting standards being “not fit for purpose” for small charities is not a new one, “suddenly popped up from nowhere”.   It has been around for at least a decade, probably for much longer.

So why is it still such a growing problem?
Because Einstein’s advice is being ignored !
Thinking that the problems can be resolved by either “adjusting some of the detail” of the current FRS-102/SORP and R&P accounting/reporting procedures or, worse, by promoting them even more enthusiastically is only perpetuating the problems, not solving them.

Accruals reporting or R&P reporting are the current “Hobson’s Choice” – “take it or leave it” – of charity financial management for small charities.

ShireHorseAccruals reporting standards are the “shire horse” of financial reporting in the commercial sector.   Although undoubtedly huge and magnificent to the eyes of accountancy aficionados, as the March 2021 review reports, they are hopelessly “over-the-top”, cumbersome and inappropriate for ordinary every‑day use by the majority of small charities, particularly those which do not have the resources to employ accountancy professionals.

(a)    they are unnecessarily dependent on complicated, stylised/jargonised and obsolete double-entry bookkeeping methodology, requiring a significant amount of professional financial training which is beyond the reasonable capabilities of the non-accountant, unpaid volunteers & trustees of small charities;

MoneyMagician(b)    they unnecessarily require assets be assigned hypothetical valuations (financial “magical money” - produced out of nowhere by the "wave of an accruals wand") which have to be included in a charity’s accounts as if they were “real money”.   That, in turn, requires that any fluctuations in the “magical money” valuations of assets have to be included in a charity’s counts as if they were “real money” income and expenditure.

(c)    as a consequence, accruals reporting is seen as confusing, misleading and irrelevant – ie: untrustworthy – by many who are not trained in financial “bean counting”, particularly the typical non-accountant trustees and other volunteers, beneficiaries and other stakeholders of small charities.

EeyoreLIn contrast:  Receipts & Payments (Cash) reporting standards are the “Eeyore” of financial reporting.   Although ostensibly “simple and likeable”, in practice they are rather inept and error-prone.   The are the “simple alternative” for those who can’t cope with “proper” accruals reporting.

(a)    the separation of the transfers of funds from the activities to which they relate can (and often does!) create significant distortions in the charity’s financial reports;

(b)    the notion that keeping R&P-focused financial records is “simpler” than keeping accruals-focused financial records is wrong and misleading.

Both Accruals(FRS-102/SORP) and Receipts & Payments (Cash) reporting standards are primarily not fit for purpose, particularly for small charities, because neither were designed to meet the needs of most of those who will create, use and read them.

Which is why all too often when it comes to standards for financial reporting the non-accountant trustees of small charities tend to take a “blow that for a bowl of cherries” approach, disregard the formal accounting standards and instead produce something that they, and their supporters can actually understand.
Which is why significantly more than half of small charity accounts fail to meet the Charity Commission’s financial reporting standards, while significantly more than half of the public find small charities more trustworthy than large charities whose financial reports are better at complying with the reporting standards.

BeneficiariesWhat is needed is to abandon both the FRS-102/SORP (accruals) and the R&P (Cash) reporting standards – certainly for all charities with annual incomes less than £1M –  and replace them with a single standard which:

1:     is designed “from the bottom up” – based on the way that the “ordinary” non-accountant trustees and other volunteers and staff of the majority of small charities work naturally and intuitively to optimise their use of resources to meet the needs of their beneficiaries.

RichPersonie: charity reporting systems should NOT be just an adaptation of reporting systems designed for the commercial sector with quite different objectives, namely the optimisation of their resources for the financial benefit of their investors;

2:     is designed to take full direct advantage of the features of modern relational database technology (ie: abandons obsolete double-entry bookkeeping concepts);

3:     records both the date of the activity to which the transaction relates (ie: as in Accruals reporting) and the date on which the “money changes hands” (ie: as in R&P reporting).   That will allow one simple set of data to produce both activity based reports (eg: for the end of year financial report to the Charity Commission and the public record) and cash-flow reports (ie: for the day-to-day financial management of the charity, and for reporting to donors);

4:     does not separate financial records and reports into isolated siloes (eg: financial reporting, management reporting, budget reporting, creditors & debtors reporting, cash-flow reporting) but is simultaneously producing all such reports and updating them in “in real time” as transactions are entered or updated;

5:     does not create unnecessary and irrelevant confusion by creating hypothetical (“magical money”) values of a charity’s assets (operational, investments and heritage) and then integrating those “magical money” numbers along with the charity’s “real money” cash assets (including changes in those “magical money” values as if they there income or expenditure, even though no “real money” ever changes hands).

It is acknowledged that criticising the current standards is “the easy bit”.

But the above proposals are not as hypothetical as the accountancy “magical money” of which they are so critical.

On the contrary:   ALL the above features are demonstrated as being feasible, practical and robust by the open-source “Charity Accounts Made Easy” spreadsheet created by Small Charity Support.

 

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating”.
The Small Charity Support's Charity Accounts Made Easy spreadsheet has been in existence since 2014 and is used successfully by a number of small charities some of which produce Receipts & Payments financial reports and others which produce Accruals financial reports.

  • Financial transaction data entry is simple and intuitive requiring no special “bookkeeping” skills;
  • Routine financial management reports (Budget, Cash Flow, Debtors/Creditors) can be produced “in real time” (ie: by a “click of a button” as transactions data are entered);
  • End-of-Year Annual Accounts and Financial Statements – compliant with current guidelines for small charities – can similarly be produced “in real time” at the click of a button for inclusion directly into the Trustees’ Annual Report.

 

Update:  Added September 2022.

In response to its findings, the Charity Commission's August 2019 review, referred to above, said:

"We are working with ICAEW and ACCA to improve their members’ awareness of charity reporting and accounting requirements, and to identify the necessary improvements to the learning and resources available to their students and members.   Both ICAEW and ACCA have provided statements to this report."

In an attempt to clarify the position, in July 2021 the following request was sent to the ICAEW and ACCA - two of the UK's largest profession bodies for accountants:

"I am the treasurer of a small charity looking for an accountant who is qualified to prepare and/or examine charities' annual accounts.   Our annual income is currently less than £250,000 so our accounts could be in either Receipts & Payments or Accruals format, whichever is more appropriate.

Looking at the Charity Commission's guidance  CC31 Independent examination of charity accounts: guidance for trustees I note that it suggests:  "....professional examiners, to provide proof of membership of one of the professional bodies listed in the appendix and that they meet that body’s requirements for acting as an independent examiner".

So I write to enquire what evidence I should be requesting from a member of the {XXX} that they meet the {XXX's} additional requirements to present themselves as "qualified" (ie: entitled to charge a professional fee) to undertake the preparation and/or independent examination of charities' accounts in accordance with Charity Commission guidance."

At the time of adding this update (ie: Sept'22} no meaningful response has been received from either professional body.

The most significant action seems to be a consultation by the Charity Commission on increasing the information to be collected within the statutory Annual Return for charities.

Albert Einstein
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”.

 

Editorial note:
This article is not a commercial promotion of the Small Charity Support financial recording & reporting spreadsheet.
Instead the spreadsheet was developed as a practical and working demonstration of the application of the “Simple is Beautiful” concept to the financial management and reporting of small charities.
The spreadsheet is, always has been (since 2014), and always will be, open-source software, free to download from the Small Charity Support website and use by charities and other not-for-profit organisations for non-commercial purposes.