The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently conducted a poll to determine the amount of confidence that Americans have in charities.  The findings should cause Board leaders around the nation to re-examine their own organization to see how they are faring.  The poll found the following:

  • 80% said charities do a “good” or “very good” job helping people.
  • A third said charities don’t spend money wisely.
  • 41% said leaders are paid too much.
  • 84% said that when choosing what charities to support, it was very or somewhat important that organizations spend a low amount on salaries, administration, and fundraising.
  • 35% said they had little or no confidence in charities.

There are two ways to look at these results.  First, the majority Americans have a good deal of confidence in charities.  That number rises when you ask them about charities in their own communities.  Additionally, a number of other institutions ranked considerably lower in confidence rankings than charities, including the media, Congress, banks, and the public schools.

Still, its a bit unsettling that a third of the nation doesn’t trust charities.  How do we fix this?  One possible solution: transparency.  If nonprofits develop the habit of openly sharing all the details regarding their operations, Americans will be able to clearly see which organizations effectively manage their operations and which don’t.  Charity dashboards displayed on the front page of every organization’s website would be a good step in this direction.  These dashboards, similar to tools being used by many state and local governments, would build confidence in charities.  Posting administrative salaries, fundraising expenses, full line-item budgets and donor lists would help demonstrate to supporters that charities have nothing to hide.

If you’re helping to lead a nonprofit, consider taking this important step to build confidence with your stakeholders.  If you don’t, there are rumblings that state lawmakers may step in and begin to regulate nonprofits more heavily….forcing them to open up.