In my experience of producing or auditing annual accounts for charities, it is not unusual for the trustees’ report or directors’ report to be left to the end of the process.
Often the mere mention of the report as an outstanding item can elicit a sigh and a level of enthusiasm usually deployed during dental visits or preparation of a personal tax return.
Ironically, this part of the annual reporting process should be the fun bit – the figures should, in theory, appeal more to accountants like myself. If a Hollywood star advertised charity accounts like hair shampoo, they would start off with explaining the wonderful things the product was meant to do and how it changed their life, and only for completeness at the end go into the science bit of the figures.
So, for those who find drafting the trustees’ report rather a painful process, here are some general pointers which may be of assistance:
Start working on it early
There is no need to wait until the dust has settled on the financials. While these are important, they are a nuts-and-bolts representation of the charity’s activities and achievements during the year; the substance of what the organisation is all about and how it has performed should, in most cases, be clear at any time of the year. This has the added benefit of goals, activities, and outcomes being fresh in the mind – it is generally easier to write about things soon after they have happened, especially if you have something positive to report!
Delegate specific areas of the report
Delegation is a key skill of effective management, so think about who else on the board or senior management team can help with different elements of the report, depending on their particular focus. This can also promote ownership of what is, after all, the report of the trustees plural. This delegation is something that many charities, in particular larger and more complex ones, frequently do, though it remains important for one person to review the overall report and ensure messages are consistent and that it hangs together.
Look at how other charities draft their trustees’ reports
While copying what others do word for word is not advisable, the voluntary sector has a much better record of working collaboratively with third parties than the commercial sector. Using examples of good practice from different areas can also be applied to drafting the trustees’ report – and don’t just look at direct peers. Consider both larger and smaller charities, as well as those working in completely different areas of charitable endeavour – there are some great and innovative ways of conveying information in narrative reports out there.
Not seeing the wood for the trees
A trap that some organisations can easily fall into and one that usually springs up in the activities and achievements part of the report. Problems can occur when trying to include too much detail. A long list of items in the style of a ‘what I did on my holiday’ exercise might fulfil a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin approach, but can detract from an understanding of the overall objectives of an organisation. It is important to stand back a little and think of reporting in a top-down approach: start with general objectives and then link each specific achievement and activity back to how they helped you work towards your strategy. Detailed examples can be a good way of highlighting the day-to-day actions of your strategy, but an overabundance can muddy the waters and risks reader fatigue: this is, after all, the ‘fun’ part of financial reporting.
If you have a query about your Trustees’ Report, please contact Euan at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0131 558 5800.
Some more specific guidance on Trustees’ Reports is at:
For more hints and tips, read part two of this blog.