Russia: what do we expect from CSOs’ published reports?
Innovation, interaction, transparency: what do we expect from CSOs’ published reports?
What is special about public reports of resource centres, why are standards applied to businesses not suitable for CSOs and can a report serve as a mission statement? Participants in a webinar on “Public accounts of CSOs” discussed these issues.
Public reports are not obligatory but are useful documents. They can describe not only the amount and quality of support provided, but can also describe the organisation’s mission and values. In addition, they raise the level of transparency of a CSO. These reports should be interesting and understandable, as they not only provide the authorities with information, but also inform the public. They should not be too formulaic, while providing a realistic assessment of the CSO’s achievements. “We should think of innovative approaches and interactivity of resource centres’ accountability. It’s true that in each report we should try to show that we have done better than in the past. We should give examples so as to provide interesting information” is the advice given by Elena Topoleva-Soldunova, Chair of the Public Chamber’s Commission on Development of the Non-Profit Sector and Support for Social NGOs.
Apart from CSOs, resource centres also publish reports. These are at a higher level of accountability.
For example, an organisation does not always have sufficient resources to assess the social impact of it s work. In this case, a resource centre can perform the assessment and its reports should show the progress of cooperation between it and the CSOs it helps as well as the achievements of the CSOs.
Standards for reports
The charitable Foundation of Elena and Gennady Timchenko has been publishing reports since 2011, using GRI global reporting standards from 2012-2016. However, business standards are not suitable for CSOs, as they are expensive, labour-intensive and problematic. So the Foundation found a solution: it gave up those standards but has retained some elements of them in assessing its achievements. For example, the principle of feedback from stakeholders. Using existing elements the Foundation created its own system of monitoring and assessing effectiveness. This has three stages: direct results, deferred results and social effect. The monitoring system serves to provide information for internal management purposes and also demonstrates achievements to society as well as making it possible to assess the results of beneficiaries’ work within each programme.
“Every methodology has its downsides, but this allows us to see whether our work has changed people’s lives. Every non-profit organisation ought to be thinking about this,” says the Timchenko Foundation’s General Director, Maria Morozova.
Svetlana Makovetskaya, Director of the Centre for Civic Analysis and Independent Research (GRANI) is certain that public reports should show the social effect of the CSO’s or resource centre’s work. Organisations with limited resources cannot provide such reports regularly, but every two to three years
would be useful. Even when the organisation knows how to measure the results of its work, problems can still arise with “the package” – if this happens there is one further task for the CSO – to make partners and beneficiaries interested in its work.
Elena Malitskaya, President of the Inter-regional public foundation “Siberian Centre for Supporting Public Initiatives” thinks that public reporting is important for reference groups which will be interpreting the resource centre’s work. The resource centre may encounter problems in producing its reports, such as how to characterise its influence on the CSO’s beneficiaries. But such centres have the advantage of being able to broaden the functionality of the ‘package’. Elena is sure that almost every public report is a step further towards a mission statement, including values, main aims, and mission.