A recent review by the Charity Commission suggests that around half of all charities fail to demonstrate public benefit; in other words they fail to ‘tell their story well’. Using your Trustees’ Annual Report (or TAR for short) to explain the work and purpose of your church has never been more important.
The TAR remains an important but evolving element of your church’s communication to the outside world. People who are new to the area, local media carrying out research and others making general enquires may all read your report which is openly and freely available via the Charity Commission.
Churches completing receipts and payments accounts have broadly a free hand at what the TAR looks like. Even where churches follow accruals accounts, the SORP sets out the basic structure and requirements of the TAR but still leaves plenty of room for creativity within that structure, particularly under the TAR headings of:
- objectives and activities;
- achievements and performance.
Sadly, here at Stewardship we see many TARs that are, quite frankly, long, dry, and dull. Some are even a ‘cut and paste’ from the previous year. Such reports provide little insight into how a church is impacting its local communities and the positive difference that it is making. The TAR may not be the primary way in which local people will come to hear about your church, but it is important to remember that these documents are public and so form part of the outward-facing ‘look and feel’ of your church.
So, what would we suggest?
- Don’t write the report for church ‘insiders’. There are many better opportunities to communicate with your church congregation.
- Don’t write in a way to ‘justify our existence’. The trustees’ report should not be the place where you list every single activity that the church is involved in.
- Write in a way that might excite others. Speak of vision, achievements and the difference made. Boring long lists of activities will not do it for most people.
- Try to include some real life (anonymised) stories of the difference made in a person or a family’s life or circumstances.
- Include examples of where your church has been ‘salt and light’.
- Write for people that do not understand church. Use everyday language, tangible examples and positive outcomes.
- Don’t feel the report has to cover every single aspect of church life; perhaps major on a different aspect each year.
- Even in the more formal parts of the report (e.g. financial review, etc.) try to find ways to introduce some of your church’s values. For example, in the finance section explain your church’s attitude towards generosity and money in general, and then pick out one or two examples of how money used well has transformed situations and people.
Churches are an integral part of the rich mosaic of community life. In addition to the transformational, life-saving message of Jesus we have much to say about parenting, lifestyle, mental health, care and lots more.
People expect dry, dull reports from dry, dull churches. So think creatively about your next TAR and see what you can do when telling your part of God’s story.