Wyclef Jean’s charity—a cautionary tale about the importance of nonprofit transparency

By Collin Lessing, JVA Consulting

One thing I’ve always appreciated about Wyclef Jean—along with his music—is that he uses his fame to raise awareness for his home country of Haiti.

In 2005, Wyclef used his resources as a music star to create Yéle Haiti Foundation (Yéle). The organization offers programs in education, sports, the arts and the environment—all aimed at contributing to Haiti’s long-term progress. Yéle also operates social service programs including food distribution and mobilizing emergency relief.

When devastation struck Haiti last month, Wyclef once again used his celebrity to raise awareness and garner support for his home country. As media attention grew, a story broke about Yéle’s lack of organizational transparency.

It turns out that Yéle’s IRS 990 forms for 2005, 2006 and 2007 were all filed in 2009, raising suspicions about the organization’s administration and how it appropriates its funding.

If Yéle leaders were disciplined in their approaches to organizational transparency, the foundation would have been prepared to embrace the moment that threw it into the spotlight. Instead, Yéle was distracted from Haiti and left dealing with a publicity nightmare.

Nonprofits should take a proactive approach to transparency and accountability. Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to do so. Guidestar.org is a great place to start. Organizations can upload IRS forms and financial documents to Guidestar’s extensive nonprofit database.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) also offers a Seal of Approval to nonprofits that meet its Standards for Charity Accountability.

Sharing a mission similar to Yéle, Lambi Fund of Haiti (Lambi Fund), a nonprofit that works for economic justice, democracy and alternative sustainable development in Haiti, has received the BBB Seal of Approval by meeting all the standards. The group also makes its annual reports and 990 forms readily available on its Web Site.

By making all of this information easy to access, Lambi Fund has positioned itself as a trustworthy organization at a time when the world’s focus is on the cause that it supports. Instead of worrying about their financials, they’ve positioned themselves to help those most in need and fulfill their mission.

Is your organization taking steps to be more transparent? If so, what are you doing?

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3 Responses to Wyclef Jean’s charity—a cautionary tale about the importance of nonprofit transparency

  1. jendjohnson says:

    I don’t know if the suspicions were warranted or not but you don’t want them raised at all. If they are doing good work it is too bad that something distracted them from their work.

  2. Ashley Kasprzak says:

    In addition to Lambi Fund having a good record with the Better Business Bureau, the organization’s Web site reads: “We have received a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, America’s premier charity evaluator, for three of the past four years.” Pretty impressive.

  3. This is an excellent article about the importance of transparency and accountability. Lambi Fund board and staff insist on it, especially since transparency is not always practiced in Haiti. Lambi Fund of Haiti is often cited as one of the most ethical and transparent organizations working in Haiti. Donors have confidence that their donations are going to the people most in need in Haiti.

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