I recently saw a LinkedIn posting searching for a marketing director for a nonprofit with national and international ambitions headquartered in my geographic area. I usually check out such job postings as possible indicators of the direction nonprofits may be moving in relation to fundraising, marketing, and communication.

I had heard of this young organization and liked its mission and the story told by its founder. It seemed to have the kind of grassroots appeal that could make it a contributor to strengthening public social responsibility. It struck me as an open and inclusive organization, and I was considering donating—until I visited the about section of its website. There I found, or didn’t find, three things that raised red flags for me.

  1. While the organization seemed to have been founded four or five years ago, there was no annual report on the website, nor was I able to find a reference to one.
  2. The board-of-directors page listed only three current board members, although it did ask for applications for board membership and detailed expected qualifications, responsibilities, and requirements.
  3. One requirement was: “Board members must make an annual contribution of at least $10,000.”

Let’s start with point one. I would never contribute to a nonprofit more than one year old that does not publish a readily accessible annual report. How could I trust such an organization to be the steward of my philanthropic funds when it lacks basic transparency? So much for the openness I thought I saw.

Then comes point two. Three board members are far too few for an organization touting the statistics this one did about its accomplishments. If after four or five years it has been able to recruit only three board members, I am forced to question the strength of its commitment to good governance. Under just about any circumstance an organization actively raising funds from the public should have a substantial number of board members. I think ten is an absolute minimum.

And finally, there is point three and perhaps a partial reason for the undersized board. I believe that all members of a nonprofit board should make contributions of money to the organization. I do not believe that there should be a minimum amount required. The size of gift should reflect each board member’s ability to give. Requiring a $10,000 donation excludes participation by capable, caring, and dedicated individuals who do not possess substantial discretionary income or wealth. So much for the inclusiveness I thought I saw.

I am not indicting this organization, and that’s one reason I haven’t named it. I hope it is the organization that I felt it to be when I started exploring it. However: the absence of an annual report, the tiny board, and the exclusionary board-membership requirement ($10,000 annual donation) are at the very least potholes in the fundraising road. They get in the way of the organization’s story.

A published annual report, an adequately resourced and sized board, and an inclusive philosophy regarding board membership are basic to transparency, good governance, and public participation. Organizations ignore these basics at great peril.