Grow your income by embracing your inner Super Sleuth

The Charity Commission website is a wonderful thing. Through it you can see the accounts of all registered charities. It is something that people outside of the sector rarely know about. It is something that people inside the sector can really use to their advantage.

If you are working for say a children’s charity, you can search the Charity Commission website for other children’s charities who run similar programmes. You can learn where they get their money from.

Is it mainly through trading or through fundraising? If they are selling to schools, can you roughly figure out pricing by comparing any figures given on number of schools reached or programmes run with the income line?  

How successful have they been with different types of fundraising, like individual giving, legacies, community fundraising, statutory and trusts, corporate and major donors? Look at the notes columns in the accounts section but also search the report narrative for clues. If they are doing well with corporates for example, and this is a stream you have not engaged with before, this evidence might give you the confidence to try.    

Digging deeper, you can often find out the names of the trusts, and sometimes the companies who have funded them, and add these to your own prospect list.

Is their income is growing or shrinking? If it is growing, what can you learn from how they have accomplished that? If it is shrinking, what has caused that and what can you do to protect yourselves from a similar fate? (often charities rely too much on one income source so ensure you have a diverse range of streams)

How much they spend on their staff, and how they use volunteers? Are you paying market rates? If not, you may be vulnerable to key staff going elsewhere. Are you making the most of volunteers? This is not a completely free resource as management time must be factored in, but volunteers are often a driving force behind successful community fundraising for example.

You can also use the Charity Commission website to look up the accounts of trusts and foundations. Whilst a website might tell you what they like to fund – their accounts will tell you the reality of the situation. What percentage went to charities in the UK? Overseas? In your area? What sort of amounts do they give? Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of Thousands? Is this consistent year on year? This research will help you calculate whether an application is worthwhile, and how you can best frame your bid.

Remember it cuts both ways! Other charities, and indeed funders, can turn Sherlock on you.  So how much information should you publish?

Despite the intelligence you are giving away, there are good reasons to be open:

  • Naming your funders serves as a thank you
  • It allows prospective funders to see past supporters – and these votes of confidence may help them come to a positive decision
  • It is reassuring to supporters to show that your funding comes from a number of sources.


A final tip: File your accounts and report on time, or the Charity Commission will publicly shame you with the presence of a big red exclamation mark. This is a red flag for funders. Why haven’t you filed? Are you not in control of your finances? Charities need to utilise all the good publicity they can get, starting with a positive interaction here.