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Where are the Trustees in the Trustees Annual Report

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Amongst all the zooming and homeworking some normal tasks must go on.  One of these is the annual audit or independent examination. 

It’s tempting to think of annual accounts as just finance.  But of course there is also the Trustees Annual Report or TAR which the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) describes as “the narrative part of your annual report and accounts that will help make sense of the numbers.”

The TAR tells the charity’s story: what we did, the difference we made and what we learned. There is clear guidance about the TAR the OSCR website and this is very much in line with good practice for reporting to funders

The ESS staff team find creating the TAR a very useful exercise. Yes it takes a bit of time to pull together all our activity and impact data from across the year.  But doing so allows us to step back, see the bigger picture of our whole organisation impact, and identify learning for the future. 

But there’s one key flaw in our approach. It’s meant to be the Trustees’ Annual Report, not (just) the staff’s. So where are ESS’s trustees in our reporting? 

I was fortunate to speak at OSCR’s event “Telling Your Story with Impact” at The Gathering in February. At the event, charity colleagues shared ideas about how to get their trustees more involved in the evaluation and reporting side of governance. And this inspired me do more at ESS.

We got started straight away at our board and staff away day in February.  Trustees and staff reflected on progress against our Strategic Plan learning priorities and agreed what to share publicly.

Then in May trustees reviewed our activities and impact from 2019/20.  The board picked their highlights, agreed what to communicate in the TAR and how the report should be set out. Of course, this process was stymied by the small matter of lockdown. Our May board meeting was on zoom so we had to be a bit more creative and less ambitious about trustee engagement.  But it was a good start. This year’s TAR is better structured and more focused on what trustees think matters about ESS’s work.   

Our independent examiner Emma Marshall from Geoghegans said

"The trustees' report is a delight to read. It's written in plain English, has lots of useful examples and graphics and I find the honesty of the report (recognising that there are things you do really well but other areas where you could improve) really refreshing." 

So what was the process like for our trustees?  ESS Deputy Convenor, Kevin Guyan:

“Providing input into the 2019/20 TAR gave me, and I am sure everyone else on the board, an opportunity to reflect on what ESS has achieved during the past year. The TAR also encouraged me to pause and consider what skills and expertise I bring to my role as a trustee and whether I can do more to support the work of the organisation.”

Call to action:  Could your board take up the challenge and get involved in shaping your TAR to help you tell your story and share your successes?  If you already have, please share your experience.  Get in touch at

Please keep an eye out for information about this year’s Trustees’ Week #trusteesweek