With everything going on in the world at the moment, alongside all the recent changes at Free UK Genealogy, we have had a number of volunteers ask for more information about our financial position. We hope it would be interesting to volunteers to share a bit more about how our finances work and what we have been doing recently to put us on a firmer footing.
Inherently, our financial position is very robust. Our operating model is built around hundreds of volunteers – transcribers, coordinators, developers and trustees. We have a very limited staff of just four people, only two of whom are full time. All our operations were remote, even before COVID, so we have no costs for an office or travel. Our total financial expenses are around £9,000 per month. This compares to the value of donated time which we estimate at around £250,000 per month.
Historically, advertising income has provided £6,500 per month and ad-hoc donations another £700. Whilst this is able to fund most of our costs, it doesn’t cover everything. In addition we found our advertising income to be increasingly erratic which is a concern given our dependence on this form of funding. As a result we have run a small deficit over the last few years. We had managed to build up significant reserves from a commercial licensing deal which we have been slowly consuming. Our reserves have fallen below the minimum specified in our reserves policy so action was unavoidable to ensure the charity’s finances were sustainable.
This is why in 2021 the trustees decided to shift our emphasis onto donations and established a Fundraising Steering Committee. We recruited a specific trustee, Kathryn Streatfield, with fundraising experience to help with this effort. We set a fundraising target of £14,000 for 2022 and a longer term target that donations cover 20% of operating expenses. We have increased donor communications, started a specific donations pop-up which has run monthly on FreeCEN and FreeREG (and will start soon on FreeBMD) and plan to participate in this November’s “Big Give” campaign.
We know that many of our users and supporters are willing and able to support us in this way. However, we also know that others prefer to contribute through their volunteer work. This is just as important to us and is very much appreciated! We have tried our best to ensure our donation appeals are sensitive to this - particularly at a time like now when many people are feeling the stretch. We also want to ensure that our adverts do not detract from the user experience.
Earlier this year we signed a new agreement with MyHeritage, replacing some of our Google AdSense adverts with specially designed ‘widget’ adverts. This provides users with more relevant and targeted adverts, as well as increasing engagement and the revenue we raise. This has been successful in boosting our advertising income, and we have now moved this to a permanent partnership.
Finally, we have had a sustained effort at managing our costs better. Overall this has reduced our run rate from £15,000 per month in 2018 to £9,000 per month today. However, we know we have to balance this cost control against ensuring the projects get all the support they need to keep delivering our charitable objectives, which has certainly been a challenge recently. And with inflation affecting our costs and our staff, we know that we should expect an increase in costs in the near future, however strict we are with controls.
These three areas - donations, adverts and cost control - have successfully turned round our position. We are now running a monthly surplus and expect to be back within our reserves policy by early next year. This more robust financial position means we can focus on ensuring our resources are dedicated to supporting our websites and our volunteers and delivering our objectives – making genealogy records available - in the best way possible.
We are keen to be open and transparent about our finances in future and communicate more about this. Our annual accounts are published, like all charities, on the Charity Commission website.
I’m happy to respond to any concerns or queries from any of our volunteers and hear any ideas you have - please email me if you want to get in touch.