Accountability and Transparency Required for Climate Change Action
By Savva Lambin
Finding the right place to donate can be a difficult task. This guide is here to inform donors and nonprofits on valuable practices for climate change action. For donors, this guide can be used to find reliable nonprofits. For nonprofits, this guide helps them display their objectives ethically.
Why is Accountability and Transparency Important?
Each year, the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP) addresses initiatives and commitments for future climate change action. However, a problem we are seeing time and time again is the lack of follow-through and transparent planning for some of these proposals.
Environmental organizations can be quick to speak but slow to act– this is spurred on by the recurring absence of accountability and misty mission objectives, ultimately decreasing the sense of trust and causing a disservice to the organizations themselves as well as the public who fund them.
Transparency for Nonprofits
Why Nonprofits Need to be Transparent for the Public
Nonprofits exist to successfully pool resources and enact social and environmental change which would otherwise be impossible for a single person to accomplish. Donors entrust nonprofits with their donations to make these changes on their behalf.
Transparent activity is required from the nonprofit in order for faithful donors to be assured that their donations are being used properly, and more importantly, that their donations are bringing them one step closer towards a better future.
The Benefits for Nonprofits to be Transparent
Maintaining a nonprofit’s integrity reinforces donor trust and increases the likelihood for a donation, which in turn, allows them to enact positive changes. Without donations, nonprofits are unable to operate, so successful growth is a prime objective.
Recently, Ocean Blue has been able to increase the amount of plastic removed from a single donation by a factor of five. As of today, a $1 donation results in 5 lbs of plastic being removed from our Ocean. This is thanks to the support from our committed donors, who have been assured that their donations are being put to good use since the launch of our first campaign.
To put it simply, generating donations achieves goals, and achieves them faster– this is especially vital when the cause is time-sensitive. The consistent donations we have gathered, backed by reassuring, reliable data allowed us to efficiently develop our cleaning methods and remove more plastic from the ocean than ever before.
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Climate Change Action Online
We’ve never been more connected and the internet is increasingly being used as a window for donors to view an organization’s values and progress. For nonprofits, reporting reliable and accurate updates on their online platforms is key to gathering donations from the public as they continue to review the reliability of organizations by the information found online.
This is particularly important since, according to the Blackbaud Institute, 60% of younger generations are reported to be more likely to donate to organizations when the impact of the donations are documented on nonprofit websites and blogs.
3rd Party Platforms
Donating by any means is a huge help, but there are a few things you should look out for when using 3rd party platforms. As a donor, you should be aware of transaction fees, these are fees which are taken out of your donation and paid towards the 3rd party platform. Also, donors and nonprofits should be cautious of how 3rd parties use their personal information. As a nonprofit you do not want to be subscribing to a platform which misuses your donor’s data.
If you have any doubts, but would still like to contribute, trustworthy nonprofits will always have accessible websites with directions to make a donation.
Accountability for Nonprofits
Why is Accountability Important?
The service a nonprofit offers can take years to complete while sometimes being dependent on changing factors, but that doesn’t mean the donors should be left out of the loop on the progress. People want to see that their donations are being used properly, so nonprofits should incorporate accountable practices.
A nonprofit provides a service much like a business does. However, when a service is not fulfilled, retail stores can take measures to ensure accountability in the form of refunds and warranties. What measures can nonprofits take?
How Nonprofits can Improve their Accountability:
Tax-exempt nonprofits are required, upon request from the public, to provide copies of the three most recently filed annual information returns (IRS Form 990) and the organization’s application for tax exemption. Additionally, nonprofits are encouraged to apply for certification through voluntary accreditation from their respective state associations to boost their accountability further.
These documents can be jarring for the general public because they contain language which is uncommon in day-to-day life. But as a nonprofit, what type of people are you trying to address? You’re addressing every-day people who simply want to make a positive change for the future. It’s in your best interest to provide digestible reports for your audience so they can effortlessly assess your practices and make a donation fairly.
Having said that, unlike a retail store where the accountability is issued after the transaction is made, for a nonprofit it works differently. You can not request your donation to be returned, so the accountable information should be described to the donor before a donation is made. It is an ethical duty for nonprofits to present their values and practices truthfully to their audience and an accountable practice which should not be overlooked by the public when donating.
The World Bank Managing Director of Operations, Axel Van Trotensburg, has called for improving accountability in nonprofits. Mr. Van Trotensburg proposes that any announcements made by businesses and governments at conferences like COP should be followed up at future events with reports that directly address the previous year’s proposals, where they can be easily understood by anyone, from bankers to the general public.
This type of accountability can also be applied at nonprofit organizations by including the reports on their websites, accessible for anyone to review. These methods are already being used by various entities like Pew Charitable Trust and Ocean Blue Project, where we report our actionable plans and achievements for Ocean conservation regularly.
In an ideal scenario, the donor would magically be given the knowledge that their donation is being used as promised. Unfortunately this is not the case, and sadly, some organizations get away without delivering on their proposals. It is up to the nonprofits to clearly display their progress in public spaces, like dedicated areas of their website, in order for donors to make fair judgments before donating.
Accountability and Transparency at Ocean Blue Project
Ocean Blue Project reports the milestones we achieve the same way we strive to maintain our ocean: crystal clear. We do this by journaling our progress in our blog and newsletter, where we regularly talk about: our upcoming cleanups, improvements to our cleaning technology, and the impact we have made so far. Feel free to see for yourself!
And thanks to Patagonia giving Ocean Blue access to Catchafire.org, our team is introduced to dozens of professional volunteers every year. The platform gives us the capacity to improve communications with our supporters about what’s new at Ocean Blue. The volunteer support gives us the extra time and helping hands needed to ensure we can remain transparent through donor reports, newsletters, fundraisers, social media campaigns, and this blog article you’re reading right now.