Promoting Excellence and Trust in the Nonprofit Sector

Back to Basics: Charity Transparency, Trust, and the Board

nonprofit_consultant The following post about charity transparency was written by Standards for Excellence Licensed Consultant Carmen Marshall and is part of our “Ten Years of Advancing Excellence” blog series, celebrating ten years of the Standards for Excellence Licensed Consultant program. Carmen specializes in performance improvement, ideation and execution, communications, marketing, organizational development, training and executive coaching. As a management consultant, Carmen has helped numerous leaders, executives, and organizations grow and improve impacting their bottom line, raise additional funds and create new programs that move the organization’s vision forward. Carmen Marshall became a Standards for Excellence Licensed Consultant in 2013. 

It’s been 10 years since the Standards for Excellence Institute® trained and licensed its first class of consultants to implement the Standards for Excellence®: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector. When the Institute was established, it raised the bar and laid out a road map to achieving excellence for nonprofit organizations who would accept the challenge to strengthen their practices. Now a decade later, 216 nonprofit organizations have received the Standards for Excellence accreditation. In homage to the Institute’s work, it is fitting to revisit the fundamentals of the Code, that if followed, will help an organization achieve its mission with improved effectiveness and efficiency while holding to the highest of standards in nonprofit governance, ethics, and accountability. Back to Basics: Trust, Transparency and the Board is the first installment in the series. 

Trust is to a nonprofit organization what wind is to an eagle. Without wind it cannot soar. Trust must also be integral to organizational culture lest it function in dysfunction. Consequently, the bedrock of trust building begins and ends with sincere and trustworthy leaders who are mission-driven, motivated and determined to do right by the organization. From there, that example must permeate every board, committee, and department.

Charity Transparency: Trust-Builders and Trust-Busters

Trust-Builder: Good communication of good information. It is imperative that information shared with and by leaders can be trusted, is timely and shared appropriately. Board members are able to make better decisions, create appropriate policy and oversight with reliable information. 

Trust-Buster: Poor communication and bad or inadequate information sets up the board for unnecessary problems, bad decision-making or possible embarrassment. This erodes trust. T

rust-Builder: Strong interpersonal communications. It may seem like a no-brainer, but simple, open and honest respectful interpersonal communication between board members or board and staff can go a long way toward building or sustaining trust. 

Trust-Buster: Communication that is dishonoring or disrespectful is often at the root of strained relations between board members or board and staff. This not only erodes trust but it slows organizational progress. 

Trust-Builder: Full engagement. Board members’ heads and hearts must be fully engaged to serve optimally. When board members exercise sound judgment that is always aimed at doing what is right for the organization simply because it’s right, it builds trust. When board members, staff, communities or members served by the organization know that the heart of the board is in the right place, and they are fully present and engaged, it builds trust. 

Trust-Buster: Board members with high absenteeism, unaware of what’s going on with the organization, or who are perpetually silent do not garner trust. 

Trust-Builder: Grace for growth based on shared values. Board members may not always agree or see eye-to-eye on every issue, but there are healthy and productive ways to solve problems and disputes, without distracting or detracting from the mission and the work of the organization. Things happen and people make mistakes, so allow for lessons to be learned and for change and correction to occur. Extend a little grace to one another knowing that even you can goof up from time to time. Resolve differences quickly, openly and honestly holding each board member in high esteem. It’s the Golden Rule, folks. Treat others as you would want to be treated. This builds trust. 

Trust-Buster: Petty arguments and character assassination, even behind the scenes, will always spill onto center stage and distract everyone from the mission, work, and service delivery. This can damage a board, to say nothing of the organization and absolutely destroys trust. 

Trust-Builder: Charity Transparency and Accountability. It is important to be clear about your role as a fiduciary. You are charged with safeguarding the public’s resources. As a board member, your fiduciary responsibility demands that you remain informed about the affairs of the organization. Should you ever come under scrutiny, “I didn’t know” won’t necessarily hold up, when it was your fiduciary responsibility “to know.” For starters, in every organization, there ought to be separation of duties to maintain transparency. As a board member you should be able to comfortably track and trace information and its sources so that you are comfortable that you are making decisions with the best information available. Transparency and accountability are the power twins of strong governance. 

Trust-Buster: Refusing as a board member to take responsibility to safeguard the public’s resources either through ignorance, lack of interest or engagement. This erodes trust. 

Finally, nonprofits in general, make an extraordinary difference serving humanity around the world. The Standards for Excellence Institute remains committed to promoting greater trust between the public and the nonprofit sector. 

“Nonprofits enjoy the public’s trust, and therefore must comply with a diverse array of legal and regulatory requirements. Organizations should conduct periodic reviews to address regulatory and fiduciary concerns. One of leadership’s fundamental responsibilities is to ensure that the organization governs and operates in an ethical and legal manner. Fostering exemplary conduct is one of the most effective means of developing internal and external trust as well as preventing misconduct. Moreover, to honor the trust that the public has given them, nonprofits have an obligation to go beyond legal requirements and embrace the highest ethical practices. Nonprofit board, staff, and volunteers must act in the best interest of the organization, rather than in furtherance of personal interests or the interests of third parties. A nonprofit should have policies in place, and should routinely and systematically implement those policies, to prevent actual, potential, or perceived conflicts of interest. In this way, ethics and compliance reinforce each other.” Standards for Excellence Code III – Legal Compliance, Guiding Principal.

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About the Author: Carmen Marshall

Carmen specializes in organizational transformation, board governance, leadership development, adult learning, performance improvement, and personal growth. She is passionate about helping others to embrace learning and transformation. As a consultant, Carmen has over 25 years of experience working with large, mid-sized and small organizations in both the nonprofit and corporate arenas as well as faith based organizations working with senior leaders and staff. She is a Licensed Consultant of the Standards for Excellence Institute and completed The Art of Transformational Consulting. Read Carmen's full biography and contact her at