Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Comité de la Charte, Twenty Years of Service to the French Public

As anyone who follows the public benefit, or nonprofit sector knows, there is increasing attention to the importance of transparency and accountability. As in the case of many concepts, the ideas of transparency and accountability are harder to define than they are to illustrate.

The International Committee on Fundraising Organizations (ICFO) exists for the primary purpose of advancing the cause of promoting transparency and accountability in the sector. It has done this largely through the good work of national monitoring organizations. And its the work of these national monitoring organizations where we find the illustrations of transparency and accountability, as well as the examples lack of transparency and accountability.

Burkhard Wilke, the ICFO Secretary General and Managing Director of Deutsches Zentralinstitut für soziale Fragen (DZI) (, wrote that since the end of World War II, the number of non-government organizations has increased significantly, and have become an important social counterpart of the economic and political forces in society. Most industrialized countries grant tax exempt status to these organizations, however, the NGO sector is minimally regulated by national, or in the United States, state authorities. The exception to this general rule is the accountability required by nations and states with respect to the projects, fundraising, and expenditures of funds provided by public subsidies.

The question arises as to why public benefit organizations should be transparent and accountable to the donor public. As I have written in a previous post, much of the giving, particularly with respect to addressing disaster situations, is based on emotional motivations. Therefore, charities often appeal to the donors’ compassion and emotional impulses, and use professional advertising and marketing techniques.

Therefore, as stated by Burkhard:

"Even when charities are perfectly accountable towards the public, many donors have difficulties fully understanding the often very detailed information to compare the organizations in which they are interested. That is why the assistance of private monitoring agencies is demanded by a still increasing number of donors as well as well as the charities themselves. The members of ICFO are building “bridges of trust” between reliable NGOs and the donors."

Today, we honor Comité de la Charte ( in Paris, France. In many countries, as in France, there are organizations that have been formed to provide some form of monitoring of charities. In some cases, there are rating systems based primarily or entirely on financial data or information provided by the charitable organizations themselves. Others are simply publishing the raw data on the Internet. Others are setting themselves up as independent monitoring activities unrelated to the sector, claiming some level of objectivity not otherwise present in the existing monitoring organizations, such as Comité de la Charte.

As the number of insipient monitoring organizations grows, whether by reason of newly established commercial enterprises or by organizations that arise from the civil society sector itself, there is the potential for confusion on the part of the donor public, both with respect to the legitimacy of the monitoring activity itself, and to the various models used to evaluate and monitor the charitable organization.

Comité de la Charte has established its credibility and reputation throughout the years of establishing Standards of Ethics and monitoring compliance with those Standards. Moreover, as Comité de la Charte has participated in ICFO with like-minded national charity monitoring in the exchange of information and experience, its role in French society has also been enhanced.

In recognition of this milestone, Comité de la Charte is sponsoring a colloquium on the anniversary of its founding. The topic is Organisations Qui Font Appel Á La Générosité: Les Défis de La Prochaine Décennie,” or Organizations That Rely on the Generosity: The Challenges of the Next Decade.

We commend Comité de la Charte on its twentieth anniversary celebration.

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