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Four Reasons NGOs and Non-Profits Should Publish Sustainability Reports

Leslie Back | Tuesday August 3rd, 2010 | 2 Comments

Last week I earned my certification in the Global Reporting Initiative the most recognized standard for sustainability reporting. (Ed. note: through ISOS and Triple Pundit)

To date, large international companies including Coca-Cola, Nestle, Sunoco and GE have been the primary users of the guidelines.  Sadly, non-profits and NGOs are yet to jump on the sustainability reporting bandwagon. In fact, of the nearly 500 companies listed on the GRI reports list for 2010, only 11 are in the non-profit sector (and NONE of those are in the United States). Clearly, GRI recognizes the need for improvement in this area, as it developed a sector supplement specifically for NGOs, to aid and guide them in reporting for their unique segment. But, if the GRI cannot convince the non-profits of the world that reporting is for them too, well then, let me give it a try.

Four Reasons Why NGOs and Non-Profits Should Write Sustainability Reports:

  1. NGOs have a footprint and are ethically obligated to try to reduce that footprint. They should communicate those improvements to stakeholders (employees, donors, government bodies and community at large) to share best practices and encourage similar reductions from others.
  2. NGOs cannot demand from corporations what they are not willing to do themselves. In a recent post, I talked about the positive relationships between many NGOs and corporations, with the NGO serving as a partner to the business, guiding them to more sustainable initiatives. In other scenarios, for better or for worse, non-profits are sometimes quick to blast large corporations that lack transparency, accountability and full disclosure for all operations. In either scenario, whether the non-profit is an ally or critic, its own credibility is bolstered when it publishes the same sustainable efforts and disclosures that it has come to expect from businesses.
  3. Save those limited funds! The business case for corporate social responsibility reporting includes metrics for cost savings from efforts in energy efficiency, waste reduction, recycling and more. Making or saving money is a huge motivator for sustainability. Of course such savings would appeal to non-profits where budgets are fixed and non-negotiable.
  4. Attract top talent and top donors. With an eye to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and similar benchmarks, corporations see sustainability reports as an increasingly important way to attract investors. Moreover, top talent from the nation’s best schools often see the corporate citizenship of the company as a criterion for working for that company. Large paychecks and hefty vacation plans are no longer enough: grads want to work for firms that are doing well by doing good. So, the same is true with NGOs and non-profits, whose need for the right investors and best people is as vital, if not more so, than in large-scale corporations. Donors, pinched for funds and torn between too many charities, might be influenced by the transparency of a sustainability report. The report would provide confidence that donor funds are appropriately spent. And, the economic, social and environmental improvements itemized in sustainability reports might just be enough to turn the right workers on to the NGO, ensuring it attracts the right talent at the right time. And, thanks to those donors they will be able to afford them!

Sustainability reports are not just for corporations. All organizations, regardless of size, purpose or financial structure should get involved and share their sustainable programs and efforts publically.  No need for NGOs to start with the GRI standards (although I would encourage it), but there is a need for a start. NGO sustainability reporting will attract the right talent and donors; save money; reduce our collective footprint and give the NGO greater leverage when working with big business.


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  • Stewart McKie

    NGOs can play with the GRI indicators on a free wordpress site at http://gri.tripos.biz

    • http://www.care2.com/c2c/people/profile.html Leslie Back

      Thanks for sharing Stewart!