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Your role in improving charity data

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Data, Research

If the past few years at the Commission were dominated, as they were for so many others, by our response to COVID, then the years ahead will be dominated by data. How we collect, how we use it, and how we share data, is a crucial theme of our work, and colleagues across disciplines and teams are involved.

Why we’re thinking differently about data

Thinking about information is not new. Like other regulators, we have long been responsible for gathering, using and making data available. And like others, we’ve been taking a more strategic approach to data as we continue to modernise our approach.

And yet a step-change in our work in this area is underway. In the past, our thinking has been concentrated narrowly on regulation, so on gathering information that helps us hold trustees to account, notably when something goes wrong. That remains a priority, and improved data will further enhance our ability to detect and tackle wrongdoing.

However, we’re now also thinking more widely about the purpose and value of data, and taking into account the needs of charities and of the public in a more deliberate way.

Better service for trustees

For example, we are considering what we might need to know about individual trustees to allow us to tailor and target guidance and advice. This is partly about ensuring we provide the best possible service to volunteer trustees, and it also makes ‘good business sense’. It is more efficient for us to support trustees before harm and disruption occurs than it is to investigate and unravel issues once they’ve happened. In other words – we’re looking to share the power of the data we hold about charities and trustees with charities and trustees themselves.

More relevant information for the public

We also want to better serve the public, thinking beyond the legal and accounting frameworks we are required to make available. We want to use what we know about the drivers of public trust and confidence in charities to inform our approach, making public data about individual charities and the sector more widely available. This should support individuals in making more informed and confident decisions about which charities they wish to support. Improvements in this area should also benefit the wider, collective public good, supporting effective funding of charities and research about the sector.

What is next for charities? 

 Classification user testing

One of the early steps we’re taking is to improve basic data about what each charity does.  This will allow us and others to better identify and analyse trends in activity and regulatory engagement within different types or groups of charities.

One way in which we can improve basic data is by expanding the range of categories (or ‘codes’) which charities select on the charities register to explain what they do, how they do it, and whom they help. We’re describing this work as being about ‘charity classification’.

With an updated range of codes, we hope that charities can select categories that more accurately reflect the range of work they do and that this will provide greater understanding of the breadth of services they deliver.

For example, education and training is a single category selected by 52% of registered charities to explain what they do, but this doesn’t provide very much information about the many different ways in which education and training services are delivered.

To make sure codes are revised in a user-friendly way that is representative of your work, we are now undertaking user testing and would welcome charities’ input. We’ll be saying more about how to take part in the near future.

Annual return consultation

Last month, we also started user testing with a group of charities on a set of questions for the 2023 annual return, and we will be using the results of that to inform a formal proposal for a library of annual return questions, which we will be consulting on fully later this year. In future years, we will draw selectively on questions from that ‘library’ for charities to answer in their annual returns, as circumstances require. Our hope is to make charities’ experience of the AR simpler and more streamlined whilst still collecting valuable data that we need to regulate effectively, and we encourage charities to have their say as part of that consultation.

Better communications from the Commission

In the longer term, you can also expect changes in the way in which we communicate with trustees. We aim to have a direct relationship with each individual trustee, so that we can target our help and support according to their needs and circumstances.

Evolving the accounting framework

 As a member of the SORP-making body we will also be contributing to the evolution of the accounting framework.

Separately, we are considering how we might allow charities to automatically submit reporting metrics to us – in a similar way that ‘make tax digital’ allows for organisations to automatically connect and update HMRC through their accounting platform.

Some of these steps lie some way ahead. But we are keen that charities feel included as we develop and implement these improvements.

Thank you

We are grateful to the support we have already received from sector organisations as we have begun this work, and for the support and cooperation of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. We at the Commission look forward to working collaboratively with the sector in the coming months and years to further our vision.

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  1. Comment by John Paschoud posted on

    Communicating better with individuals who are charity trustees could start with improving your systems for identifying us. Last time I checked, I appear as two different people, despite having a fairly rare name, and trying very hard to be clear about who I am and correct this. That would enable other support for trustees, such as with transparency of any conflict of interest.

  2. Comment by posted on

    Sounds Good. I especially like the bit where you will build relationships with Trustees.

    Many Thanks


  3. Comment by Peter Hepburn posted on

    This is all great, and the library of AR questions is a good idea.
    I hope that the question on qualified accounts can be improved as charities often mistakenly read the question as asking if their accountant is qualified - a good thing - rather than their accounts being qualified - definitely a bad thing.

  4. Comment by Umar Shariff posted on

    Yes better connected with the regulator must be a good thing for all
    Your help for new trustee will be appreciated
    So good luck with all the planned changes

  5. Comment by Stewart Fraser posted on

    The update provide positive news but to collect data invariably requires more effort from the supplier of the data, i.e. those involved in the running of the charities paid or unpaid.
    The collection systems need to simple and not increase the effort required.
    On the subject of simplifying systems the Gift Aid systems could be improved, notably being able to track the submission of claims to the point of payment being made and tracking of historical claims.

  6. Comment by Nick Avery posted on

    Having come into the charity sector from the exempt charity sector (i.e. Higher Education) I become very nervous when regulators start talking about improving data. The "providing data industry" is not something I would like to be created in any form in our sector. It is difficult enough funding core costs for so many charities, without justifiably increasing the regulatory burden.

  7. Comment by Jaki Florek posted on

    I'm sure I have previously (2013-2020) only uploaded our accounts as a file and NOT had to also pick it apart and input answers on finances in boxes before then uploading the file that has all this laid out properly.
    I have just been told (I phoned for assistance) I am wrong, I have always had to fill in these boxes!
    NOW I've just found that there HAVE been changes.
    "Spare time" doesn't exist, and life is stressful enough without adding to it.
    We don't have an office full of admin. staff, I am a volunteer who helped set up our organisation in 1997 (not then a Reg. Charity).
    The person on the helpline (possibly aged 12) seemed to think accounts were easy and started to explain "you just fill in your income"....
    Annual returns are not the same as management accounts, we pay an accountant to prepare ours from our evidenced management accounts and they are independently examined.
    So... we are close to our (extended) deadline, and I suddenly discover no I cannot just upload our accounts as we have done in the past.

  8. Comment by Gillian posted on

    Please allow charities to submit detailed information in relation to their own financial years. My charity operates in a number of overseas countries and the Charity Commission reporting for this is exceedingly onerous already, without requesting data for periods which are not our accounting periods on top. Thank you.

    Could you also please consider having a de minimis level on reporting for other countries? Activity in some countries is so small as to really not warrant the effort of recording it, either for you or for me. Thank you.

  9. Comment by Mairin Hughes posted on

    I am concerned that the Rowantree and Cadbury Charities are funding court action to stop the government from flying illegal immigrants to Rhawanda to apply for Asylum there. Most people support this government action are are infuriated that this court action has taken place. This is not the role of these charities and Icam asking you to stop any more funding going to them to be spent in this way. I hope you take. immediate action on this issue