Responsible Record Keeping: what do voluntary organisations need to know?

January 31, 2017 at 13:22

In this guest blog, Dr Charlotte Clements, Research Assistant on the British Academy project ‘Digitising the Mixed Economy of Welfare’, writes about the need for charities to have good archives and record management and how our new project can support you. 

I am used to working with voluntary organisations who want to use their archives for heritage projects, to celebrate their volunteers, or in fundraising and marketing. These are all great reasons to have and use an in-house archive, but there are a range of policy issues that make good archiving and record keeping vital to all charities and voluntary organisations.

Your records are a vital asset

The need for voluntary organisations to have well-ordered archives and records can be directly linked to pressing challenges facing the sector, such as trust, fraud and compliance with a range of legal and regulatory requirements. These issues have been highlighted by recent developments such as the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, the failure of high profile charities (e.g. Kids Company in 2015) and the introduction of a new Fundraising Regulator in 2016.

Good archives and record management processes are more important to voluntary organisations than many might think. We are used to the idea that registered charities need to have audited accounts, but in reality a much wider range of records are needed to make sure voluntary organisations comply with regulation and can show evidence of good governance. Think, for example, of how you might provide evidence of your decision making processes, or of how you meet your aims. This evidence is all held in paper and digital archives and it is vital that you are able to draw upon it to show that you comply with legal requirements and have robust decision making and governance procedures in place.

Do you know your responsibilities?

Think about the following questions:

  • Do you know what your responsibilities are when it comes to archives and record keeping?
  • Can you provide evidence of your decision making processes?
  • Can you provide evidence of how your organisation meets its aims?
  • Can you demonstrate the steps you have taken to meet your regulatory and legal obligations in areas such as data protection and accounting?
  • Can you trace all these threads back through the history of your organisation and show how you have developed?

A new project to support charities

I know many organisations might struggle to provide a continuous account of their work and that there are parts of the voluntary sector that need advice on archives and records management.

I am delighted to announce a new partnership to address these issues between the British Academy Research Project ‘Digitising the Mixed Economy of Welfare in Britain’ based at UCL Institute of Education and Charity Finance Group (CFG). This partnership, supported by funding from a UCL Public Policy Engagement Grant will allow researchers at UCL to work with CFG to launch new guidance aimed at helping voluntary organisations to fulfil their obligations and manage risks via best practice in archives and records management. We are excited to be able to draw additional expertise from UCL into the partnership by consulting with UCL Department of Information Studies and the Special Collections and Archives team at UCL.

Get Involved

The project will begin in February 2017 and I am keen to hear from people who might like to be involved. Perhaps you are a voluntary organisation facing a particular challenge with records and archives at the moment – get in touch! Maybe you work with voluntary organisations data and want to offer advice on what you think we need to include.

We will be hosting focus groups to look at some of these issues in due course, but until then please contact me on c.clements@ucl.ac.uk with your thoughts.