GuideStar International's Blog

March 10, 2011

Transparency for a Rainy Day

Filed under: Access to information,CSO reporting,Philanthropy,Transparency — guidestarinternational @ 09:41
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by Benny Shlesinger, Product Manager at NPTech GuideStar Israel. Read the post in Hebrew on the NPTech blog.

In Israel demands have been made for the establishment of an investigative committee to examine the funding sources of five non-profit organizations affiliated with the Israeli political left wing, amongst them are: B’TselemAdalah, and Yesh Din. Without entering into a political debate about this story, there was one interesting part of this story that caught my attention. All of the organizations’ initial reaction was to say “We are transparent”.

The response of the organizations point to the value of transparency in the eyes of the public, and also reflects the many public debates, talk shows and articles that circulate within NPO networks. I believe that while the response of the organizations is “We are transparent”, the sub text is a bit different. These organisations have actually said “We have nothing to hide. We pride ourselves in our conduct. If our activities were offensive:

a. it is because we were not ready to reveal everything; or

b. anyone could have found information about the organisation both before and after the accusations

The organizations not only make those two statements but also say that they can prove it.

However, it is important for nonprofits to remember that such an answer cannot be given without the proper preparations. When accused not every NPO can suddenly claim – “We are transparent” since they should be exhibiting transparent behavior before hand and over time. Transparency supports the organization’s day to day work with donors, volunteers and anyone that is interested in the organization. However, when the NPO is in the middle of a public debate – there is no substitute for transparent conduct over time.

So how should NPOs prepare for the day they may become the focus of public debate?

1. Publicise reports on the organization’s website. The most inspiring example I saw of this (and for full disclosure,  I have more than just sympathy for public transparency in this case, but also for the football club behind it) is the Hapoel Tel Aviv Education and Social Project. Visit the organization’s transparency page and see for yourself. To reveal information such as salaries and protocols requires courage.
2. The GuideStar Israel website (what else?): one example of the many great transparent profiles on GuideStar Israel is that by Ofanim – for the promotion of children and young people in Israel.

There are several advantages in using GuideStar to show transparency of the organization:

a. Reliability: information presented on GuideStar Israel was obtained directly from the government and is signed by the National Registrar of Non-Profit Associations. It is not published by the NPO, but an objective “third party”. Once the NPO also publishes its information to supplement the government information, and takes full responsibility there is little room for doubt.
b. The government information is already there, even before the NPO has registered, and the information is also updated automatically.
c. Standard structure: the reader receives all the information in a standard format, which makes it easy to read and compare with different organizations.

The conclusion I arrived at following the response of these organizations is that NPOs need to better prepare in advance for the time when they will have to be accountable to the public, the regulator,  the donor or to anyone else. It is therefore desirable for an NPO to have such information available on their website and of course ensure transparency by having a well written and complete GuideStar Israel profile.

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October 13, 2010

Interview with Royi Biller, CEO, NPTech on GuideStar Israel

Royi Biller, CEO, NPTech

GuideStar Israel: an important step towards Israeli nonprofit visibility and transparency

For the first time anyone in Israel or the world at large can freely find information on all registered nonprofits (NPOs) in Israel. Launched on the 3rd of August 2010, GuideStar Israel has been a revolutionary step towards improving the visibility, transparency and accountability of Israeli nonprofits. Keisha Taylor (GuideStar International’s Communications Manager) had the opportunity to speak with Royi Biller, the CEO of NPTech, the nonprofit behind the launch of GuideStar Israel about the website, the information it contains and possibilities and hopes for its future.

Shaking up Israeli civil society

According to Mr. Biller since GuideStar Israel’s launch NPTech has overwhelmingly received “warm feedback and congratulations about the big revolution in accessibility to information about nonprofits. People who look at it from the capacity building and infrastructure point of view all understand that this is a very significant thing that took place.” The introduction of this database to Israeli nonprofits is indeed an important milestone in its civil society sector. One month after the launch there were already 200,000 visits to the site by 17,000 unique visitors and about 13,500 of the 30,000 Israeli nonprofits listed on the site had their profile viewed. According to Mr. Biller “these figures stunned us because we did not expect so many people to find interest in GuideStar and in nonprofit organisations.”

Finally, an online presence for all Israeli nonprofits

The impact of GuideStar is made even clearer when Mr. Biller, speaking about a recent university study, yet to be published, points out that it has shown that 50% of NPOs in Israel do not have a web presence. This was before the launch of GuideStar, which now provides a web presence for all. According to Biller, “GuideStar leaves no room for decision around whether they should be on the net or not (NPOs) can just make a decision to settle for the minimum information presented on GuideStar and not supply anything else.” It follows that this is a very big first step in moving the Israeli civil society sector online and it is an important one. Having a web presence can also potentially aid NPOs use of other online resources to help improve their effectiveness.

As Mr. Biller points out “What we see as our task is to help these nonprofits realise that this is something that is beneficial for them and then encourage them to make high quality content available through GuideStar. I am not sure GuideStar as a tool on its own would be able to push nonprofits towards using more ICT tools. I do think that once GuideStar becomes more and more a familiar brand name in Israel and people learn that GuideStar will be the one place, the one stop shop to look for nonprofits, which it is by the way, at the moment, these organisations will realise that their constituents are looking for them on the web.”

What’s available on GuideStar Israel?

The basic information available for almost all of the organisations listed on the site include the year of incorporation, charity number, legal status, the registered goals they are trying to reach, the address and the names of the founders.  The audited annual financial reports and narrative report for about 12,500 organisations registered with the Israeli Registrar of nonprofits are also available on the site, but more work has to be done to get this information for the remaining 17.5 thousand organisations that have yet to submit their reports. According to Mr. Biller “They may be active but not reporting, they may be inactive but not yet have taken any steps to undo the registration.  So there is a big group of organisations that don’t file their annual reports as they should, as the law requires.”

One of the more ambitious efforts undertaken before launch was the use of a technology application to blacken out the names, addresses, phone numbers and other personal information of individuals like employees and volunteers mentioned in the reports whose privacy needs to be protected by law. However, information on other individuals such as members of the critique committee and founders of the organisation remain visible. According to Mr. Biller “it (was) quite a complex separation where we had to teach a group of individuals to distinguish between people whose privacy should be protected versus those who are condemned to be publicly transparent because of the Law of Amutot, (the law of nonprofit organisations).”

Future plans

NPTech also has plans to integrate GuideStar Israel data into volunteering and microphilanthropy websites noting that “GuideStar will become not only a place to see information but also to take action, whether it’s to volunteer or to contribute through donations” They also plan to add more information sources to be accessed through government channels. This will not only include information from the Ministry of Justice (one of the GuideStar Israel partners, who provides most of the data) but also the Ministry of Finance, the tax authority, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Welfare. According to Mr. Biller “All these organisations have lots of data about nonprofit organisations … so our agreement with the government currently only entails the Justice Ministry but it leaves room for negotiation with other government agencies to add additional information sources.”

He also spoke about the need to have a translation engine on the site as a priority highlighting that “The only thing that people have found confusing up until now is the fact that the site is multilingual but the data is only in Hebrew.” There are also plans to make the site more text based, so that information currently only available in pdf format will be received in text form and can also be searchable on the site. According to Mr. Biller “Once we have the textual data then we can also perform all sorts of manipulation and analysis … such as geographical locations of nonprofits”. He also hopes that information on salaries would be made available pointing out that “nobody really knows what is the average salary or the average general and administrative expense in Israel for nonprofits”.

Speaking on the use of the site, he notes that at the moment visitors to the site are looking for a specific organisation rather than searching by phrase like ‘children at risk’, but suspects this will change over time, once they utilise the site more often. He also underscored the importance of organisations providing content which is more concise on GuideStar Israel and hopes that GuideStar Israel can improve NPO reporting. He advises nonprofits to utilise GuideStar to find donors, volunteers and other organisations they would like to form joint ventures with.

NPTech, TechSoup Global and GuideStar Israel

Mr. Biller also gave some insight into NPTech’s upcoming software donation programme with TechSoup Global, which he hopes will be launched by the end of this year. GuideStar International and TechSoup Global combined their operations in April of this year and as far as he is concerned, GuideStar and TechSoup are the two most important projects that should be implemented in Israel. He suggests that “TechSoup needs GuideStar for eligibility and vetting of organisations. GuideStar needs TechSoup because many organisations do not specifically realise the benefit of being transparent and so we would like to encourage them to do that.  One way to encourage them to do that is to supply them with free software, in exchange for their disclosure of information through GuideStar, then they have a motivation to contribute additional information.”

A survey done by NPTech two years ago revealed that the number one service requested by nonprofits was discounted software and according to Mr. Biller, Israel is a “Microsoft country” because of Microsoft’s Hebrew support. He cites “Microsoft as the single most important donor in TechSoup Israel.” The importance of the GuideStar International and TechSoup Global combination can most certainly be emphasised once this programme is implemented and hopefully the combined offering will be available soon.

Feedback and comments welcomed

NPTech also provides assistance to Israeli nonprofits who would like to map their technology needs and develop technology infrastructure within their organisation. If you would like to provide feedback on the GuideStar Israel site, or learn more about what is happening with GuideStar Israel you can visit their blog (currently available only in Hebrew) or/and follow them on Twitter @NPTechIsrael

Download the interview

August 4, 2010

GuideStar Israel launched!

JERUSALEM (3rd August 2010) GuideStar Israel (www.guidestar.org.il), an online database aimed at making Israeli nonprofit organisations more transparent was launched on Tuesday during a press conference at the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem. For the first time, financial and operational information on Israeli non-profit organisations (NPOs), numbering some 29,000, has been made transparent to the public online. The GuideStar Israel portal, which is in Hebrew, Arabic and English, lists each nonprofit organisation registered with the National Registrar of Non-profit Organizations in Israel.

The combination of this official information, approved by the Registrar, together with more in-depth information provided by the NPOs themselves, creates the most comprehensive and qualitative database of nonprofit organisations in Israel. It also provides an Internet presence to all non-profit organisations in Israel, since it includes the country’s smallest NPOs that have not been online before.

GuideStar Israel is a joint nonprofit project of the Ministry of Justice, Yad Hanadiv and JDC Israel, and is operated by NPTech – Technologies for Nonprofit Organizations Ltd. (CPB). NPTech is a public benefit company that helps nonprofit organisations (NPOs) in Israel to utilise information communications technology to better reach their goals. It operates for the benefit of the philanthropic sector, in the belief that public transparency is important for the development of the Israeli NPO sector.

Nonprofit inclusion and public access to the website is free. Anyone interested in the nonprofit sector, including individual and institutional donors, volunteers and the general public can use GuideStar Israel to find official information reported to the Registrar about the activities of each non-profit organisation operating in Israel.

GuideStar Israel has been established in full collaboration with GuideStar International (GSI). GSI seeks to illuminate the work of civil society organisations across borders and facilitate better communication among NPOs, donors and related stakeholders. Read the entire press release.

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