Improving Charity Transparency
14 October 2014 at 9:30 am
A Not for Profit consultancy in the UK has devised a list of techniques that charities can use to improve their transparency after its research found organisations are better at talking transparency than actually being transparent.
The list is part of the report called Searching for Answers- How good are websites at helping charities be transparent is by Debbie Hazelton, Emily Richardson and Joe Saxton from Not for Profit consultancy nfpSynergy.
The research found that few charities were prepared to break free from what the researchers described as ‘the herd mentality’ of showing as little as they could on their websites and showing only what they have to in their annual reports.
“However, this area presents an opportunity for innovation and market leadership for charities,” the researchers said.
The researchers devised a list of techniques that they say charities can use to improve their transparency:
Present key information on the website instead of just in the annual report. Logically, the website as a whole is the key to accessing information because it is easier to find. This increases transparency, even if the same information is in the annual report.
Develop an ‘About Us’ or ‘Key Facts’ button or tab on the homepage so the public can logically locate the information. This could include details on governance, beneficiaries and volunteers, as well as financial information.
Use graphs to present statistics or finances in a way that is accessible and easy to understand. Creating a more visual method of presenting data allows easier engagement with the public and an improved perception of transparency.
Use infographics to present the charity’s impact in an aesthetically appealing manner. Infographics could be used to display headline figures on the homepage of charity websites to improve both transparency and the ease with which the public can find such information.
Include both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ facts and statistics with explanations on the same webpage. Whilst there may be a perception that information such as CEO salaries is negative, if included with an explanation and other more positively perceived figures, there will be less negative feeling towards a charity. This would also increase transparency.
Indicate charity policies which show how the charity uses money carefully. Research indicates that one of the best ways for charities to make people feel confident they’ll spend a donation well is to not allow staff to travel first class on expenses. If a charity has a ‘no first class travel’ policy, then it should be publicised as a positive and included on the website.
Indicate charity policies surrounding the living wage. Through research into living wage employers, it has been found that some of the charities included in the transparency audit do pay their staff in accordance with guidelines set by the Living Wage Commission.
“However, this information was not included on websites or annual reports. In this time of austerity, the idea that charities pay their staff enough to live on can be seen as a gesture of trust and fairness. This would be viewed as a positive by the public, but due to its omission, it simply adds to opacity within the charity sector,” nfpSynergy’s leader Joe Saxton said.
“We do understand why individual charities are so reluctant to be more transparent. There is little to gain and much to lose from being the only charity to stick its head above the parapet.
“Without the support of the whole sector, many charities will choose not to increase their transparency for fear of negative press due to the greater ease of finding controversial information, like CEO salaries, in comparison to the rest of the sector.”