April 18, 2010; Arizona Daily Star | Oh to have been a fly on the wall in the boardroom of the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona to hear why the board, after promising to share findings from audits intended to shed light on the organization’s finances, since decided to keep mum. According to the Arizona Daily Star, the audits were ordered last year after the agency froze some $400,000 in quarterly payments to local groups because it wasn’t sure “how much unrestricted cash it had on hand to make them.” Although it pledged in January to make the findings public, Ron Sable, the board’s chair, now says the United Way considers the reports “private.” Sable blames the “cash crunch” on late payments owed from a state agency, and that since January all funds due its grantees have been disbursed. Without offering specifics, Sable said, “We have righted this ship. It turns out we’re in pretty good shape.” Still, the decision to keep quiet about the audit’s findings—which was paid for with $51,000 in public donations—isn’t sitting well with charity experts. “Nonprofits live on the trust they build with their donors. When they compromise that trust by not being fully open about what’s going on, they compromise their most precious asset,” said Elizabeth K. Boris, director of the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy, a unit of the Urban Institute of Washington, D.C. Sandra Miniutti, spokeswoman for New-Jersey-based Charity Navigator, echoed similar sentiments. She said that agencies that solicit money from the public “have to be even more above board than other organizations.” Put another way, the board’s decision just leaves you with a sinking feeling that there’s more to the story. We recommend a helpful article by Kim Klein, in the Fall 2009 edition of NPQ, “Mission Message and Damage Control” to this board who may need to be reintroduced to 21st century expectations about transparency even in the midst of crisis. —Bruce Trachtenberg
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