Thursday, November 17, 2016

Is Your Nonprofit Trustworthy

It’s that time of year when individual nonprofits, the United Way, and alternative organizations to the United Way are sending letters and are working with employers to solicit donations.  New nonprofits seem to be popping up to ask for funds.  The public often assesses nonprofits simply by familiarity, word-of-mouth, the visibility in the community or increasingly by websites and Facebook pages.  Something new has popped up to turn our direction toward nonprofits, #GivingTuesday, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.  It urges us to volunteer and donate in our area rather than simply spending our money on Black Friday.   

Since the public values nonprofits because we trust them, you might want to consider what your website and Facebook page says about you.   Are you transparent in your actions and do you tell donors how you use donations? 

The first stumbling block is whether the public can tell you are a nonprofit.  This summer I donated some materials and photos to four historical societies.  I’m familiar enough to know that historical societies are nonprofit, but I’d be hard pressed, except for the donate button, to know that two of the four were nonprofit.  Some nonprofits, particularly colleges use the term private, but this confuses the situation as for-profit colleges have come under serious scrutiny.  In a study I did of 104 nonprofits, I searched for the words nonprofit, non-profit, not-for-profit, charity, tax-exempt, 990, 501(c)3, or United Way member.  A little over half had such an indication.  A visitor to your website could look for an annual report, a link or a post of 990 form, or even a page that states how donations were used.  Only 39% indicated the purpose for donations.  Perhaps, less specific, your nonprofit could have a code of ethics, a list of board members, its mission, or even historical information to let visitors know of your status.  If you are missing some of this information you are not alone. 

Could a potential donor find your executive’s name, email, or phone number?  In my study, many nonprofits made it difficult.  I think contact information is sometimes missing because we all get bombarded with emails, but if email is overwhelming, a phone number would help. 

Being transparent and trustworthy is your function.  For a small nonprofit, it will mean re-working the website to ensure you are clearly identified as a nonprofit.  Once done, the type of information I am talking about should be more or less permanent with updates yearly for, say, an annual report. You’ll be more likely to connect with young people who are less familiar with the differences between government, private and nonprofit sectors.

I visited and GuideStar, the search that provides 990 forms of nonprofits,  I did not find any indication that GivingTuesday  was a nonprofit except that it was founded by the 92nd St Y and many people listed on the website have given money to support it.  When I emailed the website, I learned that it is a "project created and run by the 92Y Belfer Center for Innovation and Social Impact."

What did you find missing at your nonprofit’s website? 
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