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Charity Community

Highlights from the 2024 Charity Conference

Author: Kristina Kopic, Head of Charity and Voluntary Sector

Published: 07 Feb 2024

In January, we held our two-day virtual Charity Conference, one of ICAEW’s flagship events and a real perk of my job. Here are some of my key takeaways from the Conference.

Our Charity Conference in January not only attracted a record number of you (nearly 1,200!), but it was also well received with many wonderful testimonials such as “it was the best value for money for a charity update I have ever come across with relevant themes and engaging speakers.”

Personally, I learned so much from the twelve sessions and I have added 7h 45m to my own CPD record because all the sessions expanded my knowledge. Here are five of my personal lessons from the Conference that I will take to my charity’s next board meeting.

Five items for the next board agenda

  1. Tech & AI: It can be challenging to know where to start with incorporating new technologies and artificial intelligence (AI), especially if your charity has a tiny staff team or is entirely volunteer-run. However, all the speakers in our three tech-focused sessions agreed that AI will eventually be as prevalent in our work as Excel has been. We need to embrace the opportunities (with safeguards) that it offers in performing admin tasks and augmenting our capabilities. Research shows that many of your charity’s employees are probably already using ChatGPT (even if they haven’t told you), so have an open conversation – and policies – to manage the risks to your data, protect your intellectual property and be clear about how AI can and cannot be used in your organisation. The Charity Excellence Framework offers free training, guidance and template policies to get you started.
  2. Accounting update: While we are still waiting for the final amendments to FRS 102 (to be released in the first half of 2024), you would be wise to prepare for two of the key changes now. When the changes to FRS 102 take effect (for periods starting on or after 1 January 2026), most operating leases will need to be recognised on the charity’s Balance Sheet (as asset and lease liability). Revenue recognition for contractual income (i.e. not grants or donations) will also change. We will keep you updated on these developments. In the meantime, Jill Halford recommended that charities compile a comprehensive list of their contracts and create a full, up-to-date lease register which the finance team can access.
  3. Kate Sayer’s opening keynote ‘Bringing charity to life – ethics in practice’ was a thought-provoking exploration of what is ethical and how to apply this, for example in our gift acceptance policies and campaigning activities. Mark Sainsbury also gave us an insight into why it has become important to him, as a founder-trustee, to better align his charity’s investment policy with its grant-giving activities. It was clear that some areas can be very nuanced and complicated. Charities need to think about their own charitable purpose and values first, consider the risks of (not) acting and have a plan in place before it is needed. With principles in place to guide you, it will be easier to take decisions when risks and opportunities arise.
  4. Alison Taylor’s session ‘Resilience when uncertainty is the only certainty’ explained why we have to become comfortable with managing uncertainty. Taylor shared case studies of operational adaptions made by charities to increase financial resilience. For me, her reminder to look after your charity’s staff and volunteers was particularly poignant: burnout and recruitment challenges are rife and we must look after our teams, especially when we are strapped for time and cash. Whether you are a trustee or employee – what role can you play in making your colleagues feel supported and valued?
  5. “Is charity governance fit for the future?” was just one of the challenging questions that Daisy O’Reilly-Weinstock posed in the Conference’s closing keynote ‘The Future of Charity’. In her research, she heard that many charity leaders described charity governance as ‘archaic’ and as ‘stifling innovation’. How can trustees become less risk-averse while they are also responsible for safeguarding the charity’s assets? There are no easy answers, but certainly a need for reflection and experimentation. The term ‘feminist leadership principles’ caused some debate at the Conference. While perhaps not widely understood or appreciated, the principles are worth exploring. I’d encourage everyone to read how ActionAid describe their feminist behaviours and see how well your organisation already practises these values.

If you joined the Conference, thank you for your time and your willingness to engage with big, complex and nuanced questions alongside technical updates. Thank you also for your lovely testimonials, thoughtful suggestions, and constructive challenges – they are all welcome and will help me plan the 2025 Charity Conference.

Our closing survey showed that over 80 percent of respondents are happy with the format (virtual) and timing of the Conference. It is always difficult to please everybody but I hope that by making the Conference available on demand for those who cannot join us live and by introducing other opportunities to network (such as our Big Trustee Breakfast on 13 March), we are meeting your needs. I’m always happy to have a conversation and listen to your ideas and suggestions, so please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Catch up on demand

If you couldn’t join the Conference live, you can get all the recordings by registering for the on-demand version. You will still be able to claim this as verifiable CPD (up to 7 hours and 45 minutes).