What (If Anything) Stops You from Operating Transparently?

Almost TransparentIt has been a little over a year since we made the decision to operate from a framework of transparent engagement. We have been inventing it as we go along, learning a lot more than even we thought we would.

There have already been several broad areas where we have openly engaged.
Our name change to Creating the Future
Board recruitment criteria for Creating the Future
New program idea – developing “Flash Classes”
Our year-end fundraising

And then there is the general “way of being” that is being built into the DNA of the organization, as we’ve worked to build transparency and engagement into everything we do.

As we dive into Year 2 of operating in this way, we are assembling our thinking about what we’ve learned. As we do so, it would be helpful to know from you…

  • In your own organization, what are you doing to be more transparent about your organization’s decisions? Can you share a story of what worked? What are you learning?
  • What stops you from making your decisions by transparently engaging others? What concerns do you have about opening your doors and windows, busting down the walls, and making formerly “internal closed-doors discussions” more transparent?
  • What questions would you want answered before you would feel comfortable being more open?

Looking forward to learning from you all – thanks!

Photo Info: “Almost Transparent” 5th Ave Taxis thru the Lalique Windows at Henri Bendel, shot by me in Fall 2009

6 Responses to What (If Anything) Stops You from Operating Transparently?

  1. When I worked in leadership development for a large corporation, it was the organization’s culture that blocked transparency. Not the explicit, glossy-sounding vision/mission statements, which always sound like Motherhood and Apple Pie. But the implicit, unstated basic assumptions that governed behavior, most of which were negative (e.g., “we support successful risk-taking” or “we’re one big family and Father knows best”). People who tried to be transparent usually got ostracized/punished in some way.

    If management all the way to the top isn’t walking the talk, openness becomes another flavor-of-the-month.

  2. Working with people, I’ve found that being open about myself and my intentions goes a lot further towards building really great relationships. At the same time, it is often scary to be yourself against the pressure of fitting in. I always have to be aware of the situation I’m in and whether fear of rejection is affecting my ability to be transparent. If that fear is present, then I do my best to reframe within myself, that transperency is going to help me engage the type of people I want to engage and build the type of relationships I want to build.

  3. One question I get is usually “what if people don’t understand” our (fill in the blank – plan, financial statements, decision, etc.). Some people respond well to considering how to better present or explain the item in question. Some don’t; perhaps they assume the community they serve consists of idiots or perhaps they lack confidence in their ability to communicate.

    Other questions I hear are:
    “But what if they hold us to the plan?” That one seems to be declining as awareness of accountability grows.


    “But what if the information would embarrass (fill in the blank – the chair, the funder, etc.)” That was the standard line in government when I and many others were fighting for freedom of information in Canada. We won, for a while; subsequent governments have greatly reduced access.

    There is also some confusion between personal privacy and confidentiality as each relates to transparency; this can be addressed with explanation and education.

    Mostly, I find explaining the trend towards posting minutes, financial statements, etc. help overcome fear – if the other organizations are doing it why can’t they? Research on this would be helpful, so I had percentages with some backup.

  4. Hildy, your questions are very important, particularly your second bullet point. The answers to your questions have importance far beyond individual organizational management decisions. With the debates over some tax exempt organizations such as 501(c)(4)s choosing to withhold information under the guise of nonprofit confidentiality, the answers to your questions could potentially help point the sector toward a new, revised, updated approach to transparency vs. confidentiality writ large. This issue is going to come to the fore due to the (c)(4)s, but that will bleed into questions about transparency and confidentiality re (c)(3)s. Your findings will be so helpful, and I’d be thrilled to try to convey them to the Nonprofit Quarterly readership if I get support for that from the NPQ leadership.

  5. This is all such good stuff, guys – thank you! The answers, both here and in some of the other forums where I’ve asked, are coming from the breadth of what is at the heart of our decisions – that it comes down to our fears as people (not as organizations, because really “organizations” don’t do things / decide things – people do…)

    Pam’s focus on culture – sometimes it is not just the individual fears that Chad and Jane mentioned – it could be a whole culture of fear! And I’m wondering, to get to Rick’s thinking, if that may be what we have in this sector, as the sector as it has operated so far (again not really a “sector” but just a bunch of people doing very human things) has operated out of dependency and scarcity. (Which gets to the post before this one about Fundraising!)

    So keep it coming, gang! And yes, Rick, let’s find a way to share this more broadly!