Transparency is not an option

Editor's Note

This issue, qnotes publishes the results of its second Community Assessment Survey, an annual project we began last year as a tool to gauge community non-profit organizations’ financial health and commitment to transparency.

Successfully operating a community non-profit organization is no small feat. Anyone who has spent even the slightest bit of time helping a community group fundraise, balance the books, maintain an office or engage volunteers knows this. And, for the most part, many of these tasks are often performed by volunteers, especially in the LGBT community. A lot of that work goes by unnoticed. A lot of phenomenal community leaders go un-thanked.

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Of all the tasks a non-profit must complete, the most difficult is building trust with its community, donor base and volunteers. Successful non-profits are able to capitalize upon the buy-in of those who feel the group is worthy, valuable and trustworthy — with cash, with other assets and with volunteers’ and supporters’ time. That’s why transparency is important. In fact, it’s so important that it’s not even an option.

Groups registered with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 organizations are required each year to file annual tax returns. This filing, known as a Form 990, details an organization’s income and expenditures and helps to provide a publicly-accessible accounting of the cash flow of an organization given the special privilege of owing no taxes to Uncle Sam. Filing these returns aren’t voluntary — they are legally required, as is public disclosure of these forms when asked by any member of the public. When groups fail to file their Forms 990 for three or more consecutive years, they face automatic revocation of their tax-exempt status. Groups that fail to disclose their Forms 990 also face civil liabilities and, ultimately, could have their tax-exempt status revoked as well.

One North Carolina group, in particular, had the opportunity to learn a valuable lesson on the importance of transparency and accountability this June. Last year, as qnotes undertook it’s first Community Assessment Survey, it was revealed that NC Pride had failed to file their annual Forms 990 for several years, though how many no one is sure. This paper has documented that story extensively, and several questions regarding the group’s finances and leadership remain unanswered as director John Short continues on his unabated path of closed-door, tight-lipped secrecy.

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As of yet, Short and NC Pride have refused to learn these lessons on transparency, trust and accountability. Other groups, too, have failed to maintain community trust. Many, like Metrolina AIDS Project, have since closed their doors — a natural by-product of a lack of transparency and loss of credibility. Hopefully, NC Pride will take a cue from MAP’s demise and decide not to take similar paths to self-destruction.

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This message and call for transparency is just as important for those groups who declined to participate in this year’s Community Assessment Survey. Though participation in our survey was optional, disclosing or making publicly available recent Forms 990 wasn’t — a request made along with invitations to participate in the survey a total of six separate times to each of the 16 organizations asked to complete the survey this year. We invite those organizations who didn’t participate in the survey to do so as soon as they can; we can publish your organizations’ data in future issues. We also encourage those organizations who chose not to disclose recent Forms 990 or other financial documents open to public inspection to do so as soon as possible. While gaining the trust of a community can sometimes be a difficult task, being transparent isn’t. It takes only moments, though its rewards can last a lifetime.

Finally, we thank each of the seven community organizations that both participated in our survey and complied with the legal requirements of our Form 990 requests, including: Campus Pride, Equality North Carolina, Gay Men’s Chorus of Charlotte, The LGBT Community Center of Charlotte, the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN), SC Equality and Time Out Youth. We appreciate and applaud your commitment to your communities and to transparency. : :

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer is a staff writer for QNotes. He previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015.