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Shed Some Light on Your Nonprofit

Window washer, blinds and drapes

What’s obscuring donors’ views of your good works?

A coworker once told me my favorite word was “transparency.”

She might have said that because I was constantly extolling the virtues of transparency for nonprofits, foundations and corporate grantmakers.  After all, freely sharing information about your organization builds trust and lasting support from your constituents.

Or she might have remembered that I sometimes refer to an editor as a window washer.  A good editor cleans away the grime (murky phrases, muddled grammar and the like) that obscures the reader’s view.

Either way, it’s essential that every nonprofit displays itself in the best light — because a crystal clear image will attract and retain donors and build vital support for its mission.

Three Steps to Spotlight Your Nonprofit
I’m always surprised when I go to a nonprofit’s website and I can’t find the basics — such as an annual report, a link to the organization’s IRS 990 or basic contact information.  Without such information, the nonprofit not only has dirty windows . . . it’s drawn heavy drapes that are completely hiding its good works from the world.

If you are a nonprofit leader, have you:

Posted your latest annual report on your website?  Is it easy to find (just a click or two from your home page) and easy to read?  Annual reports don’t need to be onerous and expensive to produce.  Sometimes simpler is better.  (For a quick list of what to include in your annual report. see the “Public Information” section of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofit’s “Transparency and Accountability” principle.)

Completed the Program Service Accomplishments section of your IRS990?  Your tax form is not just about the numbers (although they’re essential for transparency, too!).  Marry your positive financials with a restatement of your organization’s mission and accomplishments and your IRS990 can become another useful communications tool.  (Review “Give Your 990 a Workout” by Kate Barr at Nonprofits Assistance Fund for some more tips.)

Updated your Nonprofit Report on Guidestar?  Chances are your donors and other constituents are using Guidestar to learn more about you (particularly if you haven’t posted your IRS990 on your website).  Using your existing communications (such as copy from your annual report), it’s relatively easy to reinforce your key messages in your Guidestar profile — and at the same time build legitimacy and support for your cause.

These are just a few ideas to help you start polishing your image so donors and other can see perfectly your positive impact in the community.  Do you know of other ways to easily and effectively increase the transparency of your nonprofit?  Please share your suggestions . . . the more of us washing the windows, the better the view of the nonprofit world.

photo cc Jonathon Hutchings

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