At the very least, the basic elements that demand transparency from a nonprofit are:
- What are its mission, values, and vision.
- Who are the people who comprise its executive leadership.
- Who are its board members.
- What is in the most recent annual report—especially the financials.
All the above should be posted on a nonprofit’s website with prominent direct links from the homepage or the about page. It should take no more than two clicks to get to the info from any page on the website. That’s one of the reasons every website should have “housekeeping” navigation at the bottom of every page.
But I digress. I’m not here to nag about navigation schemes. Transparency is the issue. The most widely available documentation of an organization should be its primary documentation. No documentation is more widely available than a website. An organization’s defining information should be easy to find on its website.
I used to teach photography at an arts and education organization in Northeast Ohio that has been around for more than 50 years. Recently I visited its website. We old folks tend to get nostalgic. While there, I began to wonder who was on the board now. I was shocked to find that the organization does not list its board members. Then I went looking for its most recent annual report—nada.
The site has a link to a support section in its primary navigation. There, I was told how I could donate by mailing a check or phoning the CEO or development director. (Another digression: In this day and age let people make a direct donation over the Web for crying out loud. Don’t get in the way of the giving impulse by forcing it through slow, ancient technology.)
Okay enough with the technology digressions. The issue I want to raise here is: This organization could take the time to ask me for money, but wouldn’t reveal to me its directors or its financials. At the very least, that’s far from best practices. To me it has the potential to raise questions about fiduciary responsibility, solvency, and board quality.
Why would an organization fail to include in its widest reaching communication vehicle basic documentation that legally must be made public? Why make it anything other than easily accessible? Why not proudly display it?
I’m left to conclude that the organization isn’t proud of it and wants to obfuscate, or that it’s inept. Either way, it doesn’t encourage support.
Hey, if you’ve got a better answer, I’m willing to listen.