Anyone who is involved in charity finance, whether as a trustee, a treasurer, or as a reader of charity accounts, will be aware of the vast amount of information which is required to be included in the charity’s year end accounts. However, despite all of that detail one of the most common concerns expressed by the Charity Commission is that many charities “fail to tell their story well”. The Trustees’ Annual Report (the TAR) is an excellent opportunity to do exactly that. The TAR is openly available to whoever chooses to look at it on the Charity Commission website. This might include those who are new to the area and looking for a church, the local media who might be looking for information on a church’s activities, potential grant funders, and others with more general enquiries.
The TAR is also a useful way of explaining the accounts to those who might be more comfortable with words rather than just numbers. While the regulations set out the basic structure and requirements of the TAR for those charities preparing accruals accounts, there is still plenty of scope to give lots of other useful detail and charities preparing receipts and payments accounts will have even more of a free hand.
There are of course specific sections within the TAR (for example, the sections on “Objectives and Activities” and “Achievements and Performance”), which more easily lend themselves to telling the church’s story and it is important that these sections do not become simply “tick box” exercises to meet the requirements of the regulations. Trustees should try to avoid cutting and pasting the details from previous accounts and simply changing the year. It is much better to give specific examples of the activities that the church has been involved in and of what those activities have achieved. Don’t assume that everyone will know about what the church does and don’t be afraid to highlight the parts of church life which so many of us might take for granted – the welcome to everyone who comes through the doors, the mutual support, the facilities offered to the neighbouring community and so much more. Don’t list every single activity but instead perhaps include in more detail a few different activities each year.
People who are not part of the church are often amazed when they hear of the wide range of activities in which the church is involved and even more importantly of the ways in which those activities impact on the lives of people, so try to include some “real life” stories (anonymised as appropriate) and write the report so that it can be easily understood by those who might not understand finance – or might not understand church!
The TAR is of course a required element of the year end accounts but some churches might also produce a perhaps slightly amended version in a standalone form that can be distributed to anyone who might be interested – visitors to the church, other users of the building, potential funders, local groups and many others.
Here at Stewardship, we are particularly keen to encourage those charities and organisations that we partner with to share their story and by doing so to help us inspire the generosity of others.
Remember the story of your church is also part of God’s story so it is important that we tell it well!
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