It’s a word in vogue, is transparency. It’s used as a term of chastisement for charities - ‘charities need to be transparent’. It is often used with its twin sister term; accountable. These two together, ‘transparent and accountable’, have edged out the now less popular ‘trust and confidence’.
I am sure that transparency is a good thing. I am sure that donors should be able to find out everything they want to know about a charity. The problem is that transparency in theory and in practice are very different. Does the fact that information is available make an organisation transparent? Or is it that people are actually finding and using the data that makes an organisation transparent?
If I am sounding pedantic, let me illustrate with 10 things that somebody might want to find out about a charity:
- The salary of the Chief Executive
- The impact that the charity has made
- How to donate
- Is there a service locally?
- How to change the number of mailings they receive
- How much income is spent on fundraising
- Whether staff are all paid the living wage
- How many volunteers there are
- Whether the charity is growing in size
- Whether the charity is a member of the FRSB
So a ‘transparent’ charity could have all of this information, or variants of it, available on its website. However, I would guess that very few do.
This isn’t necessarily down to any great secrecy by charities. They already have to disclose considerable amounts of information in their accounts, but many charities don’t have their accounts on their own website, just the shortened review. The annual report for many charities is only available on the Charity Commission website.
My question is this. How hard should somebody have to work to find information about a charity? If key information (such as the CEO salary band) is only available on a third party website, how can that organisation be said to be transparent?
Perhaps we need to talk about prompted transparency (it’s available if you ask for it) versus spontaneous transparency (it’s very easy to find in a matter of seconds).
If we want charities to be transparent we need to clear what that really means, and how we judge whether an organisation is delivering.
Can you see what we mean? Or is this just a pane? Leave us a comment below.