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[PODCAST] Naked Nonprofits: Why NGO's Need to Embrace Radical Transparency

Posted by Brooke Binkowski on Sep 24, 2015 8:00:00 AM

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Editorial Note: We've got another wonderful podcast from Brooke this week! Too busy to read? Give this blog post a listen on your way to work!

We all know someone who crosses the line. You know, that line. They're all over social media: the oversharers. You think you're having an innocuous conversation about their dog, and suddenly you're hearing about their digestion. Or their marital problems. Or worse. It's as if there's no boundary between them and you. If they experienced it, you're going to know about it.

Nobody wants to be that person, right?

Well, most of the time, keeping some things to yourself is a good idea. But if you're a nonprofit, oversharing is where you want to be. Actually, if you're oversharing, it's probably not enough – the key is to get your organization to radical transparency, well beyond what the law requires. That's one of the most powerful ways to build professional trust and confidence in you. So go ahead and be like your weird auntie Matilda who Facebooks all her conversations with her dogs. It's good for your donors, and it's good for your nonprofit!

First, though, the usual caveats apply. Don't put up your social security number or your credit card numbers. Just don't. If you're working with sensitive issues, of course don't reveal information that will get anyone hurt in any way.

Having said that, oversharing's still the way to go.

Mo Money, Mo Problems

Let's start with money. So, putting up the past three of whichever 990 (or related tax form) you're using on your website, or making it available publicly elsewhere, is a great starting point. Not only does it show compliance with the IRS, but it also pre-emptively delivers information that you're required by law to provide upon request. That's great – but you can go even deeper than that. Don't just reveal how much you're making and how much you're spending, but also make it extremely clear exactly where the money you're taking in is coming from and where the money you spend is going. That not only shows accountability; it will hold you to that accountability, too.


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Who Are You?

What's your mission? Everyone involved with your organization already knows where you want to go, but do they know how you're going to get it there? How about the people who work for and with you? Another trick to add to your “oversharing” modus operandi, if you're not already doing this, is to list not just the names of key staff members and contacts on your website, but have a full list of your board of directors available there, as well. That way, people can take a look at who you have as your governing body and decide for themselves whether they are in line with your stated mission. If your board is compensated for its time, make sure that's part of the available information.

Speaking of compensation... this one can get a little uncomfortable, and it's not something that a lot of places do, but in the interest of radical transparency, it's worth it. Put everyone's salary out there, easily accessible on your website. Yep, even your own. If you don't want anyone to know your employees' salaries, that's a problem. It can be strange, because talking about money can often be a fraught and uncomfortable thing, but it will reap dividends when it comes to building trust and confidence in your organization.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict of interest is a real biggie, and can make or break a reputation. It's not going to look great for your coastal cleanup organization if its executive director is lunching with oil company executives every day. Or is it? What looks like a venal display of conflict could also be a way to hammer out better environmental policies. A clear, readily available conflict of interest policy, studded with examples of how you're enforcing them and why you're doing it the way you are, is essential for transparency's sake.

It's not just conflict of interest, though – although, again, that's a big one. Publishing your internal controls, including your policies, how you enforce them, how you budget, and your ongoing goals and what you're doing to get there, will help refine and strengthen your own work, as well as build confidence among donors and potential donors. And donors also want to know: Are you practicing what you preach? Are you championing ketchup and mustard, but only eating mayonnaise sandwiches in the office? That's something that people will want to know about you, and something that you should be ready, willing, and able to supply.

Dig Into The Data

We're in the age of data abundance, where people aren't just subjected to numbers and statistics – they want to know them. While the huge amount of information out there to analyze can be truly daunting, it can also be enormously helpful. Big Data has also changed the landscape of how people do things. People think of a constant stream of information as a right rather than a privilege (or a nuisance.) They're hungry for more, which means if they're going to consider donating to you, they're going to be – at minimum – Googling you. The more up-front you are about anything and everything, even information people didn't know they wanted, the better it will end up being for you.

So go ahead and be like your weird aunt Matilda (in a figurative sense, that is.) Put all that information out there. It's only going to be good for you in the long run.

We still don't recommend telling perfect strangers about your digestion, though. Not unless they're your doctor.

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Topics: online fundraising, nonprofit transparency

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