Can they see right through you?

Two side-by-side articles on the front page of the NonProfit Times March 1st issue were pretty eye-catching: “Pink Ribbon Gets Black Eye” and “Where’s Your 990?” I doubt it was by coincidence that these two articles were paired together, since both aim at the issues of accountability and transparency by charitable organizations.

Later in the article I saw a reference to the United Way of America (UWA) scandal of the early 90’s, when then-CEO William Arimony was caught using UWA funds for some less-than-charitable purposes. After I got over the shock that 20 years have passed since then, I got to thinking about how things have changed during that time.

It seems to me that charities have evolved in the way we talk to donors and in the way we evaluate ourselves. We think in more business-like ways and see donors as intelligent partners in our missions. Out of curiosity I logged onto a few of my favorite charities’ websites to see if my theory had any merit. One organization now sports a link to directly display a PDF of their IRS Form 990. Another site proudly displays their audit report (though still offers to provide the 990 only upon request).

From my perspective, accountability and transparency have become minimum requirements for any self-respecting nonprofit organization, and your fundraising software should support that. There are a few features built into ResultsPlus which, while originally designed for data protection purposes, can also help you with these goals:

  • A fund code is required to be entered for each gift. This is one small step to make sure that the purpose of a gift is addressed when it is entered into ResultsPlus. Additional fields are also available for describing donor intent in more detail.
  • If you use our recommended settings, gifts cannot be edited once they are posted. A credit memo must be entered to offset the original gift, and then a new gift entered with the correct information. This forces an audit trail to be created to document any changes made to gift records. It also protects the data enterer by eliminating any loopholes by which gifts could go missing. This should also make your auditor and accountant a bit happier as well!
  • Audit fields are stored in most tables in the database and any changes to gift records are logged. This allows administrators to see who was in the database when specific changes were made to data in the tables. It keeps database activity at a very transparent level and protects everyone – and it’s the primary reason we strongly recommend that you do not share usernames and passwords.
  • Transmittal Reports are generated as a required step for each batch to be posted. This is another form of documentation which can help clear up discrepancies in your data.
  • In addition to the system-required fields, other fields can be set as required to force consistency and prevent incomplete information from being added.

Use these features to help force some accountability steps into your processes and procedures. It can help you prepare for questions from the boss, the board, the auditor, and even a funder or donor – especially the smarter donors of today. With any luck, they aren’t going away anytime soon!