Just One Thing: Nonprofit Accountability & Transparency

During April’s Brown Bag, Nan Russell of MountainWorks Communications discussed two beacons in the nonprofit world: accountability and transparency.

Nonprofits are required to be transparent and accountable. Our 990s are public. Our staff is accountable to a Board of Directors. Yet, it is possible to be opaquely transparent and accountable when we only follow the letter of the law; that is, our transparency and accountability ends with compliance.

Russell then moved the discussion into a look at culture-driven transparency and accountability, and how this creates a culture of trust with our staff, our Board, our donors, our clients, the community… This culture-driven approach marries intention with daily practice and a “long obedience in the same direction.” It incorporates behavior to avoid punishment (the necessary compliance to the law) with behavior to actively do what is right, ethical and fair.

So, where does this culture-driven approach start in our organizations, Russell asked? It starts with ourselves. We must first develop the intentions and practices of transparency and accountability with ourselves. We cannot lead others to be transparent both in our successes and mistakes if we ourselves trumpet others’ successes as our own and hide our mistakes by blaming others. We cannot lead others to be accountable if we ourselves avoid the consequences of our mistakes. Once we start with ourselves, then we can lead others into a culture of trust, transparency and accountability.


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