Wednesday, May 1, 2013

a taxing question for social impact reporting

Some of you will be aware that I recently made my debut appearance on the stage of the Comedy Store in Manchester - sadly not to tickle peoples’ funny bones (well, not purposefully), but to speak at the national Social Impact Awards. And as part of my encouragement and challenge to the participants, I took the opportunity to share and publish my annual social accounts for 2012/3 (don’t worry, if you weren’t there - they’re on line now).

The reasons why I’ve committed myself to this annual report on my social impact / value / achievements are written about elsewhere, but I wanted to share the reasoning why I’ve decided to start monetising one of my measures - specifically the cash value of the pro bono support I offer.

Like many other businesses that offer professional services, I offer some of my support on a pro bono basis because, well, because it’s the right thing to do: why should people be denied support and advice on the basis that they’re not in a position to be able to pay for it (or have it paid for)?
For the last 2 years, I’ve struggled with if I should track the extent of my pro bono work, and if so, for what reason - after all, as a freelancer I only have so many resources I can devote to monitoring and evaluation so I need to know that there’s a valid benefit from what I invest resources in measuring and reporting against.

And I’ve decided that I should measure it - to help me reflect on how much support I am able to offer to people who would otherwise ‘go without’, and to make sure that I’m keeping this in balance with my need to make sure that I’m still earning enough to pay the bills. Given that this pro bono can take many forms, but all are based around time, I decided that the best way to track this would be by monetising it. That then raised the question of what should I use as my proxy value? After all, different services can attract different fees and what I charge can vary according to client … so in trying to keep it simple and transparent, I’ve taken a national proxy from a survey of other consultant’s fees.

It’s too soon to say what the effect of this new measure in my social accounts will be in how they (and I) are subsequently received and perceived, but I’m already considering another indicator - that of tax.
Private businesses are facing increasing demands for transparency in their tax affairs, and I realise that my current measures don’t have anything that allows me to reflect on the extent of my impact on wider society (I’ve already got the local economy, environment, and 3rd sector covered). The proportion of my sales that are subsequently paid in taxes seems to therefore be a simple and effective way of strengthening my transparency and also reflect on how much I’m contributing to the benefit of the wider society in which I live (assuming that the bulk on my taxes and being spent on beneficial things such as training teachers, paying for healthcare, etc).

But what do you, dear reader, think? Am I right to be valuing my ’corporate love’ (pro bono), and should I really be talking about how much tax I’m paying with anyone other than the tax office given some of the cultural taboos we have in the UK around talking about how much we earn and pay in taxes…?