Ten Ways to Improve Your Board’s TransparencyNov 21, 2023
You want to build trust with stakeholders and constituents. You want to be accountable to funders and your community. The two best approaches are accountability and transparency. Accountability is well-known in the not-for-profit world; transparency is less so. Here are a few measures you can take if not done already.
1. Open Meetings. Of course your meetings are open. But how would anyone know? Are the dates posted and easily accessed? Are the agendas and supporting documents posted online? If you are meeting in your agency’s offices where you receive clients (e.g., a public library), is there a notice board in the lobby about the meeting being held today? Are chairs available? Agendas and materials for guests?
2. The Record. Minutes convey the decisions made and actions taken. This is the record of your deliberations in your decision-making forum, the board meeting. They need to be current and accessible.
3. Annual Reports. We have many resources available on annual reports. Check them out. The annual report provides an overview of your accomplishments, movement toward achieving your mission, by whom (board and staff) and with what resources (audited statements). It should be distributed in print copy to stakeholders and funders and readily available on your website.
4. Board Role and Responsibilities. You represent your community (whether municipality or membership) and you act on their behalf. It should be clear what kind of board you are (advisory, governance, management) and what your role and responsibilities are – again, on your website.
5. Board Member Roles and Responsibilities. What are your “agreements” regarding behaviour? Your Code of Conduct? Your Oath of Office? What is the role and responsibilities of the individual board member? If I can’t find it easily, how do I know how you are held accountable and whether I want to join you?
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6. Conflict of Interest. When and why do board members (and staff) recuse themselves from decisions and meetings? How is this recorded and reported? How are whistleblowers protected? What are your policies? Where could I find them?
7. Fostering Engagement. One of the best ways to be transparent is to engage your community. Many boards do this through advisory councils. These could be panels of experts (technology, finance) or user groups (teens, e.g.). Advisory council members can act as liaisons for the agency and as ambassadors. They are better informed and both advise and advocate.
8. Financial Reports. This goes without saying, but it should be said. Financial statements and reports, and auditor reports, should be available on your website. It is useful to provide trend information and analysis as well. A summary should be in the annual report.
9. Annual Meeting. A regular annual meeting, with advance and lots of notice, annual reports and materials, should be held. Questions should be encouraged and welcomed. Explain, inform do not be defensive.
10. Public Profile. There should be a photo and brief bio of each board member on the website, together with contact information – and not through the Chief Executive Officer’s office. Who are you? Why are you there? What do you bring to the table? How can I let you know my questions, concerns, kudos? And, no, you will not be inundated with messages!
Of course, this all presupposes appropriate board training and development and extensive external communication. We represent our communities. We, therefore, do the public’s business with public funds in public meetings, and ensure that anyone and everyone is informed to the extent that they wish and we are able.
What are your main “pain points” dealing with accountability and transparency?
What advice would be most helpful to you?
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Get in touch. We’ll address your questions and concerns in an upcoming blog post.
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