Managing Information in Small Charities: day to day and legal challenges

by Dr Charlotte Clements.

Records are an asset to any organisation: they tell people who you are, what you have achieved, and why donors and the public should trust you.

I am starting new work with CFG on archives and records management which will look at how managing information can help a charity comply with regulation, manage risks and enhance governance. I have worked with voluntary organisations of all shapes and sizes for several years now and I know that small charities face particular challenges in this area. Resources are scarce and day to day running of the organisation is the most pressing priority. In this context it can be hard to think that taking time out to organise your records are a good idea. However, I want to convince you that doing this work is worthwhile. Good practice in record keeping, including digital records, can provide evidence of the impact and value of your work to funders, and boost trust and transparency with donors, funders, beneficiaries and the public. However, quite simply, it can also make your day-today work easier and make you more efficient.

I recently visited a small community organisation in Derbyshire with only a handful of staff, some of whom were part time. They had amassed piles of papers; on every grant they had applied for (let alone won) and receipts from 30 years of lunch club food shopping for example. They were overflowing with paperwork and had no idea what they needed to keep and what they could safely dispose of. The week I visited they had lost some files as a result of a virus attacking their computer network. The week before, the challenge was to locate a title deed which they needed to copy and send to a funder. It took three days to locate the deed. They were frustrated to think of the time they had spent fixing problems related to where and how information was stored. I am sure they are not the only ones to deal with the practical, let alone the regulatory problems that can follow from problems with managing information. As part of my role working on the British Academy project ‘Digitising the Mixed Economy of Welfare in Britain’ I was put in touch with them to see if I could help.

I am working on guidance which will give you easy to follow and practical steps to help you improve your record keeping. An important part of this work is making sure this guidance is accessible to smaller charities and for this, I need your help! I want to hear from you about what your needs are, your biggest challenges and what kind of help would be most useful to you. I also want to run a workshop with small charities to road-test the new guidance. At this workshop you will get advance access to brand new guidance on record keeping, have the chance to offer feedback to shape the final product, and get additional access to support from the project. If you would be interested in being part of this, then please email me on for more information.