In a conversation at church today, a member told me of a year end gift she did not give to a charity which had been on her giving list previous years. Her reason made me smile. In May she attended a session I did with Cheri Freeh, President of the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified PublicAccountants where we emphasized that nonprofits should have a link on their web page to their IRS 990. This nonprofit did not, so the potential donor didn't waste her time...the dollars went elsewhere.I’m all for the demands for the new transparency. It is a wonderful way of holding ourselves accountable, being more accessible to our communities, our staff, board and funders. There is no sense trying to hide your organization's 990's. They are online on a number of websites right now, and those forms are being interpreted in good and bad ways, in fair and unfair ways, by both the websites and their readers.
Get your information out first, and get it out fully. Since your information is online anyway, put it on your site along with a commentary about the information within. Turn transparency into a marketing asset, by making the disclosure into an annual report that talks more fully about overhead percentage (see my comments on Charity Case) as well as mission-accomplishments.
Big Data is here to stay. Research by donors is growing. If you make it hard for them to find key information, they’ll take their money elsewhere. Remember, the idea that openness is a good thing has to start with the Board. Create a culture of openess: on your board, within your staff, with you funders and with your clients.