What Does “Transparency” Really Mean?

There is a lot of talk these days about “transparency,” the government, business and nonprofit buzzword of late. Have you ever wondered just what it reallyreally means?

To me, it means accountability, clear messaging and an open and direct path to who we are.

We at Operation Kids just concluded our annual presentation of the independent audit to our Board of Trustees. The auditors gave us a clean bill of health. This should be important to you because there is an ongoing concern over the lack of oversight and accountability in the not-for-profit world. That concern is at the very heart of our mission. We are determined to bring greater accountability and results to charitable giving and believe it must start with our own organization.

I recently read two articles that any charitable supporter or donor should find important: Searching for Red Flags Donors Might Wonder About and Charity Web Sites Come Up Short in Survey of Financial Disclosures.

A couple of quick highlights.

In Charity Web Sites Come Up Short in Survey of Financial Disclosures, the article discusses where some organizations fall short in providing transparency on their websites:

Most nonprofit groups do not offer enough detailed information about their finances, programs, and leadership on their Web sites, according to a new report that documents how much information charities disclose online. “The findings suggest that charities need to better respond to donors’ growing demands to know more”, says Dan Moore, vice president for public affairs at Guidestar.

“There’s a whole new level of engaged donors searching online for causes or for information about causes that meet their desired impact, and charities need to have that information available for them.”

This new level of engagement, means more people are looking at nonprofit organizations’ websites, financial information and their processes to evaluate efficiecy, transparency and impact.

But what, exactly, are donors looking for? According to Searching for Red Flags Donors Might Wonder About, H. Art Taylor, chief executive of the Better Business Bureau’s Giving Wise Alliance, in Arlington, Va., advises donors to focus on three key things when they research a nonprofit organization:

“First, I try to gather the seriousness of the organization from the quality of its mission statement. If the mission is vague and does not clearly articulate the programs of the organization, I lose patience. Secondly, …look to see if there are conflicts of interest among the board and staff. Third, …how long they have been in business. Given the number of organizations already in existence, a newer organization has to [be] better positioned than one that’s been around for a while.”

I welcome this type of advice, and in fact, we would push it a step further. We make it a point to get on the ground with each and every charity we support because there is no substitute for getting to know the people and seeing a program in action before we can endorse it, recommend it or act as fundraising partner. Not everyone has the ability or the access to do that, however, which make articles like these so valuable.

And while I’m talking transparency, we have just posted our updated financial statements for 2008. Check our website for updates on our operations, structure and financial reports. We hope you will find it useful and that it will guide how you look at other organizations. 

-Rick

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Filed under Initiative: Charitable Giving & Accountability

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