Introducing Responsible Transparency

Lowell Aplebaum
March 02, 2021

In the democratic systems that guide the governance of #nonprofits, there is an inherent expectation of transparency allowing the system of leadership to operate from a place of trust and confidence in partnership with those they serve. This expectation will often result in ‘transparency’ appearing on a list of values or priorities for organizational governance, culture, and community. Yet, for some this is interpreted as the need for every person in an organization to know or have access to every piece of information. For a number of reasons – from legal responsibility to creating a safe space for difficult deliberations – this interpretation of transparency can actually hinder the success of an organization. Instead, I believe organization are looking to embrace a philosophy and practice of Responsible Transparency.

Responsible Transparency ensures the deliberations and decision making of the group (e.g. who said what and who voted which way) remains confidential. Hard decisions can only be made when there is trust among a leadership cohort allowing them to talk out differing perspectives and hear points of view outside of their own. They must feel safe in their conversations, without the fear of potential retribution from statements shared or taken out of context which diverge from the ultimate position of the organization. In the end, a Board needs to have multiple voices around the Board table and a focused intention around what is shared after decisions are made.

Responsible Transparency also enables clarity in the system of leadership nomination and selection. We live in a time of continual shift – the skill set, experience, and diverse governance perspectives needed for an organization to thrive will continue to shift as well. Organizations that embody Responsible Transparency build competency-based boards and publicly identify in each election cycle what they are seeking in their leadership. They reinforce those competencies and the clarity of their communications when recognizing what the chosen candidates bring to the table and how their selection will help advance the organization. In a system of Responsible Transparency, all are clear about why a selected individual is in a certain role and how they will help the organization achieve its mission and vision.

Lowell Aplebaum, FASAE, CAE, CPF is the CEO and Strategy Catalyst of Vista Cova – a company that partners with organizations on strategic visioning and planning, creating stronger governance models, and reimagining value and engagement. Lowell frequently provides dynamic sessions to organizations – conducting deep-dive interviews and getting members and volunteers involved through experiential learning approaches. He is the creator of a master-level learning series called Through the CEO Lens and Association Charrette – a co-creation retreat experience. His work on global efforts for associations has included experience across five continents, hundreds of volunteer groups, and all 50 states in the U.S.