A spate of spending scandals at non-profits and charities in recent years has led the governing boards of other organizations to seek to make their financial information more transparent.
Now the Blue Grass Community Foundation — an umbrella organization for more than 200 Kentucky non-profits and charities — is going to help them. On Wednesday, they're launching a new Web site that allows donors to see how much these groups spend and how they spend it.
"A lot of people have heartfelt charitable intent, but they want to know they're giving to a solid organization," said Lisa Adkins, executive director of the Blue Grass Community Foundation. "People give more when they have confidence, and the key to having confidence is having knowledge."
So far, more than 90 of the foundation's groups have voluntarily joined the Web site, Goodgiving.net, including small ones, such as Seedleaf, a community gardening non-profit, and bigger ones, such as Centre College.
Once viewers click on the organization's name on the site, they can see yearly revenues and expenses, along with pie charts to show what percentage of the group's budget goes to its programs versus administrative costs. The site also shows the board's governance structure, the members of its board of directors, the programs it offers and financial information for the previous three years.
For those people who want even more details, the site links directly to the group's 990 tax form, which shows individual salaries and other more specific information.
Adkins said the technology works through Guidestar, the Washington, D.C., organization that compiles nearly all the 990 forms turned into the IRS.
Transparency is a growing concern for community foundations, Adkins said. The first such Web site was launched by her former employer, the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, which eventually decided to make the technology public. Adkins said the Blue Grass group is the 10th community foundation to set up such a site.
"Non-profits have told us they believe this is a step they can take to distinguish themselves, to show they are transparent and accountable," she said.
Dan Moore, vice-president of non-profit programs for Guidestar, said more and more community foundations are moving toward such Web sites.
"Philanthropy is moving online," Moore said. "Community foundations are known for their deep knowledge of their communities, and they're now bringing that knowledge forward."
The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee in Nashville set up Givingmatters.com in 2004.
Spokeswoman Kallie Bienvenu said more than 1,200 non-profit organizations in Tennessee have joined the site.
"We want to enhance giving and to help donors feel confident and good about the gifts they can give," Bienvenu said. "It's a great way for organizations to get their information out there."
Here in Lexington, Chrysalis House, a non-profit center that supports women and their families through recovery from alcoholism and other addictions, has joined the new site. Assistant Director Mary Allison Belshoff said the group was eager to get on board.
"Goodgiving shows our potential donors that we are good stewards of our funding, which will be evidenced over the years on the site," Belshoff said.
She said fund-raising could improve, particularly from people who want to give to specific programs. One important facet of the site is that it allows online donations. Using online fund transfers such as PayPal are very expensive for non-profits to operate on their own Web sites, Belshoff said.
"That way, we'll be able to save a lot of money," she said.
Mackenzie Royce, executive director of the Bluegrass Conservancy, said she hopes Goodgiving.net will increase her group's visibility.
"We think this forum gives our non-profit a great opportunity to share our story and connect with potential donors," Royce said. "We believe it can really provide the donor a snapshot of our non-profit land trust mission and our goals, our needs and our financial situation."
The Blue Grass Community Foundation will launch the site with a news conference Wednesday afternoon. State Auditor Crit Luallen will be the keynote speaker at the Keeneland Club at 4:30 p.m.
"While our focus is on public dollars, much of the work we've done has pointed to the need for more transparency and accountability on the part of all public and non-profit boards," Luallen said. "This initiative will really bring increased transparencies, with the added incentive of encouraging more people to give."
The Blue Grass Community Foundation will hold an information session on the new Web site at 9 a.m. Jan. 12. For information, e-mail email@example.com or call the foundation at (859) 225-3343.
There also will be an online seminar from 2 to 3 p.m. Jan 27. To register, go to Kynonprofits.org.