The participants struggled to define "accountability," but the discussion seemed to swirl around the concepts of "transparency" and "impact." Naturally, the recent flap over the 60 Minutes expose of Greg Mortensen, author of Three Cups of Tea, sneaked into the discussion, and quite appropriately since the nonprofit that Mortensen founded may have problems with both transparency and impact.
During the chat, we did seem to agree that nonprofits owe their donors transparency, which is all about making it easy for a donor to look into the organization's finances and management, and what impact the organization is having on the problem it addresses. Donors expect and deserve transparency about the way a charity operates and information about its results.
Transparency means that your nonprofit posts its current 990 (and your most recent audit or financial statement) on your website or links to it on another site, such as GuideStar or Charity Navigator, and that you provide third party endorsements, such as a rating from Charity Navigator, certification from the BBB, and/or reviews from users through Great Nonprofits.
Impact may be a lot harder to demonstrate, depending on what kinds of metrics you gather on your work. You do measure your impact don't you? Yes, great stories are wonderful as is praise from your clients, but those do not free you from providing some statistics as well. Consider this impact page at Camfed, this one from KaBoom which pulls together transparency documents and evidence of impact in one handy place, the Financials page at TrickleUp, and this approach at Food Bank for New York City, with a multitude of links to information about its impact.
One global health organization makes impact an integral part of its marketing. PSI's tag line is "Healthy lives. Measurable results," and its magazine is titled Impact. PSI has a webpage devoted to metrics and research, and its mission statement even includes the word "measurable": " To measurably improve the health of the poor and vulnerable people in the developing world, principally through the social marketing of health products, services and communications." Transparency is covered with a page devoted to the annual report and the 990.
Do you provide transparency on your website, in your publications, and in your fundraising materials? Do you gather metrics on your impact and provide them whenever you communicate with donors? Do you collect stories that flesh out the meaning of those statistics? Do you have third party endorsements from well known rating agencies and umbrella professional organizations to which your nonprofit belongs?
What are your thoughts about transparency and impact? I would love your thoughts and examples.
Here are some resources that participants in the #smNPchat shared:
- Charity Navigator's How Do We Measure Accountability and Transparency?
- NPR's Can You Know Where Charity Dollars Go? Not Easily
- Sea Monkeys and the Case for Tangibility at Katya's Non-Profit Marketing Blog
- Twitter Chats for Nonprofit Tweeps
- What You Need to Know About Form 990
- Transparency Checklist for Nonprofits
- Attract More Donors by Improving Your Trustworthiness Score
Photo: Win Initiative/Getty Imagesz