25 July 2016

Succeeding in the NFP sector: It’s a matter of trust

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You may have heard the recent news about Street Swags founder and former Young Australian of the Year finalist Jean Madden, who was charged with fraud. Allegedly, Madden embezzled $441 000 from the organisation and took control of their website and email accounts over the weekend, before agreeing to hand them back after a court decision, according to the Third Sector website.

It’s pretty confronting to hear about such alleged unethical behaviour from the founder and former leader of a highly values-driven organisation. We want to feel we can place our utmost trust in organisations representing the interests of those less fortunate. Madden’s behaviour no doubt raises concern for some.

Indeed, the not-for-profit and charity sector has been rated the third most ethical sector in Australia, according to a survey published by the Governance Institute. The sector was edged out by education at number one and healthcare at number two.

This rating is in spite of high profile cases of poor ethics in the sector. According to Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine, CEO of National Centre for Health Justice Partnership, there are notable examples of charities not holding up their moralistic ideals.

“Accusations about the Shane Warne Foundation’s failure to disburse funds raised for its charitable purpose forced its eventual closure. Only last week parents used national media to air their allegations that a housing provider Sylvanvale was double-dipping for the same costs of housing their children living with disabilities,” Dr Boyd-Caine wrote on the Pro Bono website.

Dr Boyd-Caine says charities need to strive for transparency and openness about their operations and business models in order to maintain trust; something she says is key to ongoing success and sustainability in a sector reliant on outside funding and donations.

“Given this heavy reliance on others, we should expect and respect that people will want to know how we resource our work. Such information is a basic measure of our accountability and transparency,” Dr Boyd-Caine said.

Dr Boyd-Caine said charities have an opportunity in the digital age to be proactive in their openness and transparency.

“In an age where digital platforms are disseminating information and disrupting everything around us, charities don’t need to sit back and wait for people to ask about how we resource our work. There are plenty of tools we can use to sustain the public’s trust and confidence in what charities do and why it matters. Our colleagues overseas are already doing this,” she said.

Want an example of an organisation that’s getting it right? Look no further than the Guide Dogs, who have been rated Australia’s most trusted charity three years in a row, according to their website.

Christian Berechree joined Akolade’s production team in May 2016. He has a Bachelor of Media and Music and a Masters in Journalism.
Christian is a musical theatre geek and a new dad, and he’ll happily spend hours telling you about either or both of those things.

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