Research funding opportunity: Impact reporting by charities
ICAS is seeking research proposals for a project which considers questions, concerns, new ideas and recommendations relating to the development of impact measures and the embedding of impact reporting by UK charities within their trustees’ annual report.
About the call
The research will contribute to the evolution of current practices and facilitate the preparation of practical guidance for UK charities of all sizes on how to develop impact measures and impact reporting.
The project also has the potential to provide evidence and recommendations to the Charities SORP Committee on how to develop impact reporting requirements for UK charities applying ‘Accounting and Reporting by Charities: Statement of Recommended Practice’ applicable to charities preparing their accounts in accordance with the Financial Reporting Standard applicable in the UK and Republic of Ireland (FRS 102)’ (the Charities SORP).
A new edition of the Charities SORP is expected to be in place for reporting periods commencing on or after 1 January 2024.
Call for research
The aim of the research project to be funded is two-fold:
- To identify and explore current impact reporting practices by UK charities, within the trustees’ annual report, with a view to understanding why charities choose to develop impact reporting measures, how they approach the development of those measures and ultimately whether published impact reports meet charities’ original objectives, including in relation to communicating achievements to external stakeholders.
- To be of assistance to the Charities SORP Committee by providing evidence and recommendations on how to develop impact reporting requirements for the Charities SORP.
The research project is to focus on impact reporting by charities in their trustees’ annual report. It should consider ‘real’ and ‘balanced’ impact reporting, which truthfully assesses not only the positive contributions of the charity in the year under review, but also highlights those areas falling below expectations and how these can be addressed. As such, the project will not consider marketing-type impact reporting, which only highlights biased and curated success measures.
The project will be overseen by a multi-disciplinary Steering Group with charity sector and research expertise. The Steering Group will work with the successful research team to finalise the parameters of the research and to formulate research instruments. The Steering Group will support the research team throughout the duration of the project and will oversee the project on behalf of ICAS.
The Steering Group is composed of:
- The ICAS Head of Charities
- The ICAS Head of Research
- A Professor of Accounting
- An experienced charity trustee
- Two senior charity finance staff
- A charity impact reporting specialist
Proposed project outline
The following project outline has been established by the Steering Group. It is important to note however that proposals which derive from it are welcome, with the research team providing their rationale for any different approach.
We also wish to emphasise that research teams need not be solely composed of accounting academics, with multi-disciplinary teams encouraged, and that ICAS welcomes all research methods.
Phase 1: Survey and interviews
- Survey charity finance staff, other relevant staff and charity trustees about their views on and experience of developing impact reporting measures.
- Undertake semi-structured interviews with charity staff and trustees involved in developing impact reporting measures, focusing on what this involved, including how they went about establishing systems and processes to identify, gather and verify relevant data.
- We expect that the survey and the semi-structured instruments will be based on a review of contemporaneous literature.
The research team is expected to draft the survey instrument and the semi-structured interview questions, to seek to gather the views and experiences of respondents on impact reporting. Both are to be finalised through discussion and agreement with the Steering Group. We anticipate that the formulation of the instruments will consider the following three key questions:
- For whose benefit and for what purpose are impact reporting measures being developed?
- What key information is to be communicated by the impact reporting measures and what does success look like?
- How are the impact reporting measures being developed, e.g. how are the relevant metrics identified, and how is the information to produce them being collected and verified, including internal controls/ internal assurance processes?
Phase 2: Assessment of impact reports published within the trustees’ annual report
This is proposed to involve:
- A review/evaluation of the impact reports published by each participating charity within their trustees’ annual report.
- Consideration of what the impact reports have achieved/what difference they have made to stakeholders. Key stakeholders to be considered may include charity finance staff and other relevant staff, charity trustees, charity regulators and funders. Stakeholders views would be gathered through semi-structure interviews, with the instrument formulated as in Phase 1 and finalised through discussion and agreement with the Steering Group.
Phase 2 is proposed to include:
- Content analysis of impact reports produced (two full sets of reports and accounts would be available for March year end charities).
- Interviews with stakeholders on the difference impact reports have made, and whether they meet their information needs.
Either of the research phases could be supplemented by a roundtable stakeholder discussion organised jointly by the Steering Group and the research team, if appropriate.
ICAS acknowledges that Phase 1 findings will inform Phase 2, and that departure from the above may be warranted as a result.
Each phase of the overall research is to be defined and devised as a distinct research project, with its own timeline, budget and resourcing. The Steering Group will however retain its oversight and guidance role over the overall project and each individual phase. Likewise, it is anticipated that the successful research team will undertake both phases of the project.
A number of UK-based charities have already committed to adopting impact reporting in their trustees’ annual report for their next financial year, and to participate in this research project. The size of these charities range from small to very large, with the majority of year-ends being in March and December.
We note that the research team may wish to augment the population identified by the Steering Group with additional participants of their own choosing.
We anticipate that some elements of the research will be co-determined by the Steering Group and the research team, such as:
- The type (size and charitable purpose) and number of charities within scope of the research.
- Who should be interviewed within those selected charities (a key consideration will be the size of the charity), and whether to interview external stakeholders.
- Phase 1 – July 2021 to December 2021 with a draft final report to be submitted to the Steering Group by the end of January 2022.
- Phase 2 – January 2022 to December 2022 with a draft final report to be submitted to the Steering Group by the end of January 2023.
Given the objectives of this project, it will be critical for any proposal, and execution thereof, to adhere to the above timelines. The Steering Group will be pro-active in monitoring progress.
A series of outputs from the research team, at pre-determined times during the project, will be agreed with the Steering Group. These will include:
- An interim report following completion of the literature review in Phase 1 (date to be agreed).
- A Phase 1 draft final report within one month of completion of Phase 1 (by 31 January 2022).
- A Phase 2 draft final report within in one month of completion of Phase 2 (by 31 December 2023).
- Short articles for publication by ICAS on key early findings during Phase 1 and Phase 2 fieldwork. These will be used to promote awareness of and interest in the project, and impact reporting by charities more generally.
ICAS encourages outputs to be supplemented by other more interactive and/or innovative delivery media, such as webinars, short videos, etc., and publication in academic journals, following discussion and approval by the Steering Group.
The research team will also be required to make short presentations of interim and key findings to the ICAS Research and Charities Panels, and other relevant ICAS panels, boards or committees. A presentation of findings at ICAS sponsored events may also be required.
The research team’s outputs will be supplemented by outputs developed by the Steering Group which may include good practice guidance and case studies to assist charities and charity trustees to implement impact reporting within their charity’s trustees’ annual report.
It is essential for the final reports to consider public interest in these issues, and to draw conclusions and implications for charities, policymakers, the profession and wider stakeholders. These should be a maximum of 10,000 words in length. ICAS will use the reports arising from this call to inform public debate and policy development and the project will therefore be high profile.
Grant funding is available up to a maximum of £7,000 for Phase 1 and £13,000 for Phase 2 of the project.
If you are interested in undertaking this project, please email firstname.lastname@example.org attaching a call for research application form (available at icas.com) together with summary CVs no later than 5pm on Friday 16 April 2021. You should explain why you believe you or your research team are suitable individuals to undertake the project, demonstrating your knowledge and expertise in the area. You should specifically state how any team will be structured and responsibilities for completion of the report. The proposal should identify the specific topics identified in this flyer which you will focus on and include:
- Details of the proposed research questions and methodology.
- A brief review of prior research/literature (academic and other), if any.
- How the project will meet the evidence needs and objectives outlined in this call.
- The extent to which the research will be breaking new ground or building upon work which has already been undertaken.
- A summary of the key issues which you believe are likely to arise from the project.
- The amount of grant, in sterling, which you require to complete the project and a breakdown of the estimated costs.
You should also refer to the Guidance notes for prospective funding applicants (available at icas.com) for further information on what should be included in a proposal.
The research proposals will be considered by the Steering Group and by a panel of academics and non-academics to arrive at a final decision. It may be that presentations will be required by shortlisted teams in order to reach a final decision. Dates for such presentations will be set at the mutual convenience of ICAS and the research teams. Applicants will be advised of the final decision at the latest by the end of May 2021.
For further information about this funding opportunity or any queries please contact the ICAS Research Centre:
Tel: +44(0)131 347 0100