The October Question of the Month asked, "What does 'nonprofit transparency' mean to you?" The responses fell into two categories: (1) financial accountability and (2) openness about missions and programs.
Financial AccountabilityAimee LaBrake of the Tackle Marketing Group, which provides services to nonprofits, defined nonprofit transparency as "a clear view into where the donations/gifts given to the non-profit are distributed, as well as the overall costs of running the non-profit organization." Judith Tomlinson of Those Against Drunk Driving agreed: "When working with communities, community donors need to know where their money is going."
John C. McGee of Family Relations Program, Inc. elaborated, "A willingness to provide information about the nature and activities of your organization including but not limited to governance, finance, program, outcome measures to your funders and the general public. In addition, you should be willing to answer reasonable questions about the information and be able to explain the material to those who have a need to know." Along the same lines, Donna Valente of the Christopher Reeve Foundation maintained, "Nonprofit transparency means that the organization's finances, operations and programs are absolutely ethical and open to inspection."
Other participants mentioned adherence to federal and state regulations, annual financial audits, timely submission of reporting documents, and clear accounting methods and record keeping.
Openness about Mission and ProgramsSeveral participants pointed to the importance of ensuring that all activities support an organization's mission. As one anonymous participant wrote, "There is nothing to hide. The mission is clear and organizational activity reflects that."
For Dr. Anthony A. Adamo, chief development officer of the Children's Home, Inc., "nonprofit transparency" means that "everything we do must be clearly understood and open to review and thoughtful discussion by all stakeholders to gain their complete confidence and respect."
A Holistic ViewFor many participants, "nonprofit transparency" encompasses every aspect of an organization. As an anonymous participant said: "I think of the acronym DWYSYWD (do what you say you will do). Do the actions of the organization reflect the core values and mission it promotes? Is there genuine evidence of the agency's high regard for integrity across all core aspects of the agency—from program operation and hiring practices, to evaluation and communications as well as the financial practices (where most media attention often gravitates). Examples of evidence may include recognizing and abiding to all applicable state and federal laws, exploring appropriate accreditation opportunities, completing regular annual reports/audits and making that information readily available to funders, using independent researchers to conduct program evaluations, maintaining open lines of communication between donors and the like." We couldn't have said it better ourselves.
Suzanne E. Coffman, November 2006
© 2006, Philanthropic Research, Inc. (GuideStar)
Suzanne Coffman is GuideStar's director of communications and editor of the Newsletter.