Thursday, December 1, 2011

Public benefit

All charities need to pass the public benefit test. Here's what the Charity Commission says about the needs to report on public benefit

For smaller charities, below the audit threshold**, trustees are required to include a brief summary in their Trustees’ Annual Report of the main activities undertaken in order to carry out the charity’s aims for the public benefit. Trustees can, of course, provide fuller public benefit statements if they wish.

For larger charities, above the audit threshold**, trustees are required to provide a fuller explanation in their Trustees’ Annual Report of the significant activities undertaken in order to carry out the charity’s aims for the public benefit, as well as their aims and strategies. They are required to explain the charity’s achievements, measured by reference to the charity’s aims and to the objectives set by the trustees. It is up to the charity’s trustees to decide how much detail they want to provide to clearly illustrate what their charity has done in the reporting year to meet the requirement; the Commission will not be prescriptive about the number of words or pages needed. But a charity that said nothing on public benefit in its Trustees’ Annual Report, or produced only the briefest statement with no detail, would be in breach of the public benefit reporting requirement.

**For charities with accounting periods ending on or after 1 April 2009, an audit is required when a charity’s gross income in the year exceeds £500,000, or where income exceeds £250,000 and the aggregate value of its assets exceeds £3.26 million.

It is interesting times for we Unitarians as we now have three basic priorities - (1) local leadership; (2) ministry; and (3) visibility. It all seems a bit too much about us and no-one else.  The fact that our faith and social action work comes under visibility gives very much the wrong impression - we are doing it to make ourselves visible rather than because it is intrinsically right.

I know that the Quakers are significantly bigger than us but I was looking longingly at their annual report for last year - their objectives are around these areas

  • Strengthening our spiritual roots 
  • Speaking out in the world 
  • Peace 
  • Sustainability 
  • Strengthening local communities 
  • Crime, community and justice 
  • Using our resources well
It seems so outward looking compared to ours and it has an objective around the use of resources which fills my heart with joy!  I have long argued that it is a spiritual imperative to make the best use of all our resources.

Our new priorities do not serve us well.  I think that if we just focus on these issues then we will find it difficult to answer in more than a few words what benefit we provide to the public.  Let's hope that what we actually do is more impressive than what we say we are going to do.

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