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Telling your story: Making the Trustees’ Annual Report work for your charity

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As the Scottish Charity Regulator, we are privileged to get a wee glimpse into the breadth and the depth of work that over 24,000 charities are doing across Scotland and beyond.  Our public surveys always tell us that one the key ways of maintaining and, indeed, increasing public trust and confidence in charities is by making sure the stories of that work reach the public. 

Charities come in all shapes and sizes and will have many different ways of communicating with the public.  Making sure that you are clearly explaining to your supporters, beneficiaries and the wider public what you do and what difference it is making can help you build the strong relationships you need to continually develop your organisation. 

There is one tool that every charity can use to show how good they are at what they do.  This is the “Trustees’ Annual Report” (TAR) - the narrative part of your annual report and accounts that will help make sense of the numbers.   In our experience, trustees often have one of two reactions preparation of the annual report and accounts, they either:

  • take a lot more care in getting the numbers right than they do in making sure that the story in the TAR is strong and consistent, or
  • they are fearful of trying to engage in the preparation of the TAR because they think that anything to do with the accounts is too complicated for a non-accountant. 

But if you think about it, the Trustees’ Annual Report is just about telling the story of what has happened in the charity over the past year and helping readers understand why you have spent the money in the way you have done.  By getting these messages out, you can hook your audience in, show them your passion for what the charity is set up to do, the activities it is delivering and how those activities are really making a difference for your beneficiaries and the wider public. 

Laura Anderson at The Gathering 2017

Laura Anderson speaking at The Gathering 2017 about Trustees' Annual Reports

It is very easy to see what makes a good TAR.  It will show how your charity is run and what it does.  It will have clear evidence of its work and the impact that work is having.  It will be written in such a way that allows the audience to understand the work and engage with it.  And it will clearly explain why money has been used in certain ways. 

We see a lot of TARs that are not very informative, lack detail and enthusiasm and so, this year, we are going to put more of a spotlight on this area, encouraging charity trustees to improve the quality of their TARs.  This need never be a duplication of effort.  If you are already reporting to funders, or have a good way of producing an annual review, this can all be part of the same process.

But don’t ignore your TAR.  Get it right, and you will be getting your fantastic stories out to more people more of the time.  Get it wrong, and you may undermine the trust and confidence that supporters and the wider public have in your charity and the sector as a whole. 

Laura presented advice on the Trustees' Annual Report to attendees at The Gathering 2017. You can view a copy of the presentation slides here. At the same event, we also issued a handout containing TAR top tips which contained some examples of TARs produced by Scottish charities that you can view here.