Transparency Isn’t Just For Ghosts!

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I know, boring topic for a Tuesday morning…but hey, it is Tuesday and my guess is that you’re so depressed at having four more days of work to go that you may actually welcome this little distraction.

So I bumped in to a couple of people this weekend who were promoting their non-profit at a local street fair.  They were handing out flyers to their upcoming event and were explaining to people that they needed to sell 40 more tickets before they were sold out.  After sharing with us what great work they did for our community I told the gentlemen that I used to be in Development but was now writing for an on-line Social Good magazine.  I asked him if he could answer a few questions for me and told him that I would check with our Publisher if we could do a feature story on his non-profit.

The first question I always ask is, “What is your mission statement?”  I do this because your mission statement is the quickest and easiest way to get the point of your organization across and I like to know that you know what you’re trying to accomplish.  He looked at me like I’d asked him to solve the Higgs Boson – a hypothetical massive elementary particle predicted to exist by the Standard Model of particle physics, in case you didn’t know.  He instead repeated to me what he had already said about the services they provided, how they planned to raise money and then regaled me with a success story.  This took about 10 minutes.  And time is money, no?

The second question I always ask is, “What is your annual budget?”  I like to know that you know how much money you bring in and where it’s all being allocated.  Again, no recollection of ever having understood English.  He even asked me what I meant by it.  I explained that I wanted to know how much money he brought in per year, what were his operating costs and how much money went directly toward the program.  He responded that it was “80 – 20”.  I’m going to go ahead and guess he made that up since he couldn’t come up with the numbers.

Okay, so I’m not really in to the whole “slamming non-profits” thing because in all honesty, I want every single one of them to succeed.  I just don’t understand why certain non-profits refuse to be transparent.  Have they never heard that it’s part of their responsibilities to their donors and the public?  Do their donors not care what’s happening to their money the second it leaves their hot little hands?  Is this the first time someone in this organization has been asked what the hell they’re doing?

I find it very difficult to believe that investors of start-up companies in the Corporate Kingdom don’t care how their money will be used, how much time it will take to start making a profit and when they will see a return on their investment.  So why is it different for non-profit donors?  Isn’t giving your money to programs that help people and better your community still an investment?  One may argue it’s the most important investment you’ll ever make.

I believe that all non-profits have the best of intentions for serving underprivileged populations.  I’d have to kill myself if I didn’t.  But I also believe that they need to be held accountable for their accounting practices and operations costs  (think September 2001, Red Cross accounting practices and PR DISASTER).  How colossally aggravated would you be to find out that you’re hard earned money is partially being spent on the Executive Director’s “company car” that happens to be a brand new 760Li BMW?

If your non-profit can’t give you definitive numbers on where your money is being spent, I highly suggest you find a new non-profit to donate to.  It’s called an Annual Report, people, look in to it.

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