BETTER REPORTING, HIGHER TRUST, INCREASE IN DONATIONS
Accountability and transparency are key foundations to any organisation’s governance. This is even more pertinent in the charity sector as charities are dependent on public monies and thus subject to higher scrutiny. Donors are also increasingly discerning and require updates and information on where their donations are going.
With our expectations for accountability increasing, the capabilities of our charities to communicate their impact and governance to donors and stakeholders must also be enhanced.
The charity sector in Singapore comprises charities of all forms, championing varied causes and at various stages of reporting maturity. There are some charities that may over-report, which leads to thick annual reports and an overload of information. These charities lose focus, and their readers are unable to comprehend them. On the other hand, there are charities that under-report, unsure of their regulatory compliance. Having too little information may be perceived as a lack of transparency.
This is where the “Visibility Guide for Charities” hopes to assist and build capability in the charity sector. By adopting the Visibility Guide’s PARENT framework (PARENT stands for Purpose, Alignment, Results, Evidence, Navigate, Transparent), charities can help to build trust in the giving space through more transparent and responsible practices.
P – Purpose
It is crucial for charities to state their purpose and start with the “why”. By stating the “why”, we speak right to the heart, and tug at our readers’ heartstrings. For example, SPD, a charity that benefits persons with physical disabilities, states, “Our mission is to work in partnership with people with disabilities to develop their potential to the fullest so that they can be self-reliant and independent.” National Kidney Foundation’s vision and mission is “Giving life and hope through affordable, sustainable and quality renal care, education and prevention of kidney disease in partnership with the community.” Their purpose starts with the “why”, and helps to show how their strategic directions drive impact on their beneficiaries.
A – Alignment
Charities may have numerous activities and programmes to cater to their beneficiaries. However, with an array of activities, the charity should also show how these activities or programmes are aligned to achieve their charitable purpose. For example, MINDSET Care Limited shared in its annual report how its efforts are focused in the following five areas – Awareness & Outreach, Back to the Workforce, Social Enterprise, Fund Raising, and Fund Allocation – all contributing back to the larger vision to “change people’s attitudes by raising awareness and understanding of mental health issues, as well as providing direct and tangible assistance for individuals, families and organisations in need of help”. Charities can also illustrate such alignment through “tree” diagrams.
R – Results
Donors would want to know where their donations are going, and the good they have created in the community. Most charities would display their financial information but may fail to show the relationship between the dollars and cents, and the impact they have on the lives of the beneficiaries.
Other information that could be presented are outreach efforts, number of beneficiaries impacted and funds raised. For example, Club Rainbow (Singapore), a charity that works with children with chronic illnesses, providess information on their programmes and the support given not only to the child but to the entire family in a holistic way (Figure 1).
Figure 1 Support is provided in a holistic way, involving the family
Source: “Celebrating Your Imaginations”, Annual Report 2017, Club Rainbow (Singapore)
E – Evidence
Evidence demonstrates results with a more personal touch through storytelling. Charities should provide glimpses into their beneficiaries’ lives. For example, a charity that works with youths and the elderly beneficiaries can share their personal stories to provide readers with snippets of how the beneficiaries’ lives positively changed after receiving support assistance such as counselling, to better integrate into school or age in place.
Other than the voice of the beneficiaries, some charities may also reach out to their family members and partnering agencies for testimonials. One such charity is HCA Hospice Care, which showcases quotes from their healthcare partners on the work done for the elderly who seek dignity and closure in their final lap (Figure 2). Through these sharing of stories and personal accounts, readers are reassured that the impact of donations is truly felt by the community.
Figure 2 Sharing of stories reassure donors of the impact of their contributions
Source: “Hand in Hand, Adding Heart to Days”, Annual Report for Year Ending 31 March 2018, HCA Hospice Care
N – Navigate
An annual report hosts much information and may be daunting for a reader who has little accounting or financial knowledge to read the financial statements in depth and understand the impact the charity has on the community. Moreover, in this day and age where we are over-loaded with information, donors appreciate snapshots of critical information that would help them make informed decisions. One avenue to help readers navigate a report is through infographics.
Infographics should not be complex but should put across important information in the most understandable way possible. The use of visuals such as charts and graphs helps readers as well. Methodist Welfare Services illustrated its key statistics on the number of clients and beneficiaries, as well as programme outcomes, using simple icons and pictures. It also uses a simple pie chart with numbers to show their fundraising income and operating expenditure for the financial year, and this helps readers identify critical information (Figure 3).
Figure 3 Infographics and charts convey important information clearly
Source: “The Heart of Connection”, Annual Report FY 2017/18, Methodist Welfare Services
T – Transparent
The annual report is an avenue for charities to disclose information and promote transparency. Charities could also let stakeholders know their areas for improvement as well as their future plans. Such information indicates to donors that the charity is forward-looking and has concrete plans to further its charitable objectives. For instance, SATA CommHealth is forthcoming in disclosing its plans for the future, even as it looks back and celebrates its 70th anniversary. Its broad future plans include expanding community services outreach to other regions of Singapore, forming partnerships to provide integrated care to the community, as well as growing and improving internally in terms of capacity and capability building.
The Visibility Guide’s PARENT framework helps charities frame the information required for accountability and transparency to the public. It guides charities to sieve out crucial information such as financial statistics, governance matters, and evidence of the work done in fulfilling the charitable cause.
With this framework, charities can provide greater assurance to the public that their organisation is well governed and can be trusted with more donations.
Dr Ang Hak Seng, FCA (Singapore), is Commissioner of Charities.