More Than One Way To Skin An Annual Report

‘Tis the season of charity’s annual reports and I always find it interesting to see how newspapers interpret results. I’m one of the only losers in the world that actually reads these things and I’m always disappointed to see the focus firmly sit on the finances as opposed to impact, output and achievement.

I wonder, what do the press releases look like?

Take Trócaire, for example…

In their latest annual report they exclaimed that, because of their donors:
– 2,409 families in Honduras now have access to water.
– 4,000 people in Mali were provided with emergency aid.
– 20,000 victims of conflict were given food and shelter.

And much, much more.

The newspapers went with the headlines “Trocaire goes into red even after €1m donation”, “Anonymous donor leaves Trocaire a bequest of €1 million” and “Over €4 million left to Trócaire in wills last year”.

It’s a shame…wasted, precious media space that could have been used to highlight successes or raise awareness of work still to do. What percentage of media space is wasted on celebrity gossip and wishful-scandal?

The majority of articles and comments focused on the CEO’s salary. People asked how much of their donations go on salaries…despite the fact that the annual report answers this very question. Wouldn’t we be better asking how many lives were saved for each donation?

It’s our own fault…the media are pawns and fueled entirely by supply from the charity and demand from us   – so that’s clearly what we want to read. But just in case you’d like to read further than the headlines, here are some of the highlights I took from Trócaire’s financial report:

  • Trócaire had a total income of €60 million and employed 423 staff. About 0.002% of their income went to their CEO, who worked for well below the market rate to manage a huge organisation and hundreds of staff and volunteers across 27 countries.
  • None of their trustees or board received an income from their work with Trócaire. They didn’t even claim any expenses – no mileage, no cups of coffee, no bus fare to get to board meetings!
    It’s worth noting that most private company directors would receive an income. It’s safe to say these people have Trócaire’s best interests at heart, and they are the ones that determined a fare salary for their CEO. If it was reasonable to pay less they probably would have.
  • Trócaire have published their senior manager’s salaries – not many organisations, businesses or charities do that. Shouldn’t we appreciate their transparency instead of criticising it?
  • The income from the public stayed stable – it takes amazing supporters and an amazing fundraising team to achieve that in a recession.
  • The level of detail is incredible. For example they specifically declared a €1,000 restricted donation from the Daughters of Charity. The people that benefit from their work is reported right down to the individual number. This is incredible for an organisation with a turnover of €60 million.
  • But they put a pie chart in saying what percentage they spent on ‘charitable’ activity – I hate that…it’s nonsense.

Oh, and if you’d like to actually start discussing their impact and the incredible work they do, then why don’t we focus on their achievements for a couple of seconds. Why don’t we take a mild glance at their output before we even consider judging them?

Shouldn’t that be the what annual reports are all about?


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