If your accounts for the year are not quite as good as you might wish— if, for instance, you make a loss of £2.5m on a turnover of £1.6m – how do you convey the news to your members?
The past year has been one when many organisations have had accounts that are less satisfactory than they might wish. The Society of Antiquaries of London has displayed a virtuoso performance in the art of presenting such accounts.
The first essential is not to present your accounts to your members too blatantly. The solution is to put them on the web, where members may consult them if they wish – but they are not made too obvious. In the case of the Society of Antiquaries, their full accounts — all 51 pages of them — can be found on their website at (www.sal.org.uk/history/ reportandfinancial/). Instead, you produce what you call an Impact Report, listing your key objectives. Then, devote a page to what you call Use of Funds. Here, you admit that the sources of income were £1.6m for 2007/2008, compared to £2.3m in 2006/2007. When it comes to expenditure, you show how the expenditure is divided up – but you do not reveal what the total expenditure actually was. You do not, therefore, reveal that in fact the total expenditure at £1.9m was rather more than the total income. A discreet veil is drawn over the results of the investment funds during the year — which, not surprisingly, were not as healthy as would be desired.
The Society of Antiquaries, whose symbol is the the lamp found in 1717 at St Leonard’s Hill, Windsor (right), has the good fortune to be quite well off, with over £10m under investment. However, most of this is invested on the Stock Exchange, and this last year has not been a very happy one for the Stock Exchange. In previous years, the increase in the value of the investments had been taken as income, as recommended by the Charity Commission. It is all very well to include the increase in the value of investments as ‘income’ when the investments go up, but what do you do when the investments go down? Over the past year there has, in fact, been a loss on investment assets of £2.2m, which means that the deficit (or loss for the year) was £2.5m. The fund balances carried forward have declined from £15.2m to £12.6m, which actually is not too bad, considering the general performance of the Stock Exchange.
The biggest single problem has been the Making History exhibition at the Royal Academy, to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Society in 1707. In financial terms, this was an unmitigated disaster. Extra resources had to be allocated, totalling £219,000 in 2007/2008 and £334,000 in 2006/2007. Part of the trouble was that the income from visitors fell short; too many got in free by being members of the Royal Academy, so that although 39,500 visitors saw the exhibition, only 10,194 actually paid. Nevertheless, regardless of the financial problems, it was surely worthwhile celebrating the Society’s 300th anniversary in this way.
The previous year’s accounts had been helped by an unexpected legacy of nearly £500,000 from Margaret and Tom Jones, who spent so many years heroically excavating the Anglo Saxon site at Mucking in Essex. The premises have been restored and redecorated, with somewhat uncomfortable seats being installed in the lecture theatre. The membership, or rather the Fellowship (for members are all called Fellows) continues to rise: one wonders how the Society will face the new challenges that may be presented, should a future government change its political complexion.
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