Nonprofits: When is Organizational Transparency a Detriment?

How necessary is transparency?

The National Council for Nonprofits states that “charitable nonprofits embrace the values of accountability and transparency as a matter of ethical leadership, as well as legal compliance.”

But what happens when transparency endangers the lives of those who fund and staff a nonprofit? What if the founder uses a different name other than her/his legal name? Are they violating the trust of donors who contribute to their organization?

These questions are emerging as more nonprofits are formed to help refugees, immigrants and historically marginalized demographics. Should the founder of a nonprofit that builds homes for refugees in Iraq risk his life by using his legal name? It is a perfectly reasonable question – the socio-political contexts in Iraq and Syria are complex, with different factions holding ethnical standards across the spectrum. Think about the nihilistic violence of ISIS and its targeting of foreign aid workers. What may be a moral necessity in Pennsylvania could be a mortal mistake in Aleppo.

Do donors really care about transparency if it risks the lives of those who are working to serve a greater purpose?

Recently, two peacekeepers went missing, presumed to be kidnapped in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nonprofit work is not always risk-free. The price for transparency in their case may very well have cost them their lives.

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