Speaking out on the burden of reporting and what funders can do to lighten the load

Emma Pears, Founder and CEO of the children's charity SELFA, shares her recommendations for funders who want to do better.

Recently I posted on Twitter about the challenges small charities face when reporting to funders on how we spend their money. The tweet “blew up”, and I was inundated with messages from those with similar experiences to me and a multitude of sympathisers.

It got me thinking about how we could make things better, for both the funders and those they fund. Some of the ideas I came up with a were aspirational to say the least; but there were a few that, if we could put them into action, would make a big difference in freeing up the time of small charities to support communities. Here’s a few recommendations for funders who want to do more to help the charities they support:

The way we report

So often I’m given lengthy documents with big word counts, but what if small charities could say all that funders want to hear in a voice recording or a short video?  For smaller pots of money, funders could arrange a quick phone or video call to find out how the money was spent and record the call if everyone agreed. Beneficiaries could be involved, telling funders directly what went well and what can be learnt, because believe me, the young people I work with won’t throw any punches. Funders will hear exactly what the project did without any sugar-coating!

What we report

If it works better for funders to have a written report, please give a word count and make it a short one! I can waffle on like the best of them, but I’d like funders to ask me four questions; what did you do? What happened as a result? What did you learn? And finally, a breakdown of how the money was spent. It would be great if funders gave us an example of what a good report looks like too. If small charities know what funders are looking for, we are more likely to provide something meaningful. Otherwise, it can sometimes feel like drawing a map of the world from memory! If funders do their research at the application stage, then they’ll want to invest in a particular small charity because, amongst other things, they have good governance. It’s up to trustees to make sure that a small charity spends money wisely, and funders need to trust charity boards to do this.

We should be learning from the COVID-19 pandemic

Finally, it would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention anything about COVID-19 and what it taught us. Some days it feels like small charity funding has reverted straight back to 2019, as if the pandemic never happened. During those few years, there was lots of fantastic funding practice going on: much of it was based on trust and meeting needs in a truly unique way. As a charity that had to redesign our services 10 times during the first year of the pandemic, we saw a focus that wasn’t on what we were delivering, but rather on how we were supporting those most in need by being right at the heart of communities. That’s what small charities should be reporting on, in the most concise way possible of course!

Emma Pears is the founder and Chief Officer of SELFA children’s charity based in the Yorkshire Dales and is well-known for her campaigning on children and young people’s mental health. Follow her on Twitter @SELFA_Emma.