NGOs should operate open information policies, based on the presumption of disclosure, and make information easily accessible to relevant collaborators.
NGOs operate for public benefit, like governments, rather than private benefit, like companies. In order to make the most contribution to other people’s efforts, NGOs should operate with the openness and transparency expected from democratic governments, unless there are strong reasons not to.
Information is power. Transparency empowers the people an NGO works with. It makes it easier for them to collaborate with the NGO, as they understand its work better and how it can best contribute to other efforts.
With proper information, collaborators can hold NGOs to account for their performance. This creates incentives for continual improvement within an NGO. It is a crucial tool for fighting corruption and the perception of corruption.
At the sector level, transparency makes it easier for NGOs to learn from each other in pursuit of common goals. Funding can be better matched to strong performance, so resources can be used more effectively.
Finally, by being transparent themselves, NGOs model the good practice that they often press other stakeholders to meet, for instance among governments and private sector companies. This can help citizens develop the skills and confidence to hold powerful actors to account.
NGOs should routinely publish:
- Strategic plans, goals and background analysis
- Performance reports, including feedback & scope indicators and evaluations
- Which standards they use and performance in comparison to them
- Major collaborators
- Legal status, governance and management arrangements, including identifying board members and senior managers
- Financial information
- Contact information
NGOs should make relevant information available in ways that are easy for different stakeholders to access. In particular, they should make information accessible to the organisations and poor people they work with directly.
At the project level, this may mean providing information about project level goals, performance, expenditure and contact details in appropriate languages and media.
Naturally, NGOs need to keep the costs of transparency under control. In some cases, transparency can increase political and security risks. There are likely to be personal privacy considerations. Sensible judgements should be taken about what information is appropriate to publish and withhold, based on the presumption of transparency and collaboration, rather than privacy.
Examples and related initiatives:
- ActionAid International’s open information policy
- Christian Aid’s open information policy
- Oxfam’s open information policy
- Aidinfo – working to make aid more transparent
- Publish What You Fund – campaign for donors to publish what they fund
- HAP – examples of NGOs being transparent to beneficiaries
- Who Counts? – campaign for financial reporting to beneficiaries