Your Lack of Transparency is Killing Your Startup

Charities (and even social ventures ) are taking big publicity hits this year. And with each scandal organization’s have to fight PR battle's they didn’t wage. Use resources to counter public response: which ranges from caution to growing skepticism. How can you distance yourself from the negative publicity? What can you do to leverage this all into a positive, game-changing experience? And grow? For me, the key is transparency.

Whoa, Whoa, Whoa. Why Does This Matter To Me?

Why does this even matter? One (hyphenated) word, buy-in. Buy-in can mean different things; purchasing, donating, investing, supporting, etc. But buy-in comes from trust. Organizations who “do good” build trust by being honest and reliable. If either of these are missing people fill in gaps with the worst. Chipping away at their desire to buy-in. After all, do you risk associating with nonprofits who use donations to host “board retreats” in the Maldives ? I don't.

What Does This All Mean?

Going forward, just being transparent won’t be enough. Go a step further and ask, “How transparent are we about being transparent?” In other words, are we sliding by? Throwing a study in from time to time? Or do you push out data, encouraging involvement and questions? Do we volunteer critical insight into who we are and what we do?

It’s worth mentioning, politicians are climbing over each other to introduce laws punishing non-transparent practices. You see this with all the new open records and materials disclosure laws. Soon, organizations won’t have a choice to step up transparency. Why not practice and get those “transparency” legs now?

What Can We Do?

Creating more transparency doesn’t have to mean putting the organization at risk. There are different places organizations can look to that create great impact:

Transparency in books and records. We’ve already seen examples of this over the last few years (hello Sarbanes-Oxley!) Most territories have their own version of transparency laws on books and records. What to keep, where, by whom, how long, etc. Some even detail how to disclose records. There are certifications with transparency requirements. And there are processes with built-in transparency requirements (for example RFP's to the government). But, organizations can look at other aspects of transparency like access. How easy is it to access audited financials? Can investors or donors log on to your website and find everything they need?

Transparency in your supply chain. This is growing too. In the United States, some States require disclosure on certain products. For example, who makes them and how they end up in the hands of the organization. Run supply chain audits and give stakeholders insight into how operations work. If your focus is fair trade, are you actually accomplishing that?  And if not, what are you doing to improve? How are you holding yourself accountable? Being genuine in your fight to overcome shortcomings is another great way to get buy-in.

Transparency in your mission/social benefit/social purpose. Any mission statement where I look up more than three words makes me nervous. If the mission is to, "Eradicate the malaise and depravity that integuments the world" what does that mean? And how do you do that? It’s hard to believe someone is accountable to a mission no one understands. Or can pronounce. Make sure your mission statement or social purpose is clear and understandable. If I log onto your site I should understand how your operations tie into your mission. And more importantly, drives it forward.


There are other places like operations or management where you can find little transparency nuggets. The takeaway is to look at your own organization and decide where it can stand out. What small adjustments allow you to meet your purpose and involve others? In turn building trust? The current environment is tough, but for those willing to step up transparency it also presents a wonderful opportunity.

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