Over the past two decades, there have been several highly publicized nonprofit scandals that have eroded the publics confidence in the sector (Aviv 2004). Significant changes in nonprofit regulation have been implemented to address these concerns that have expanded the financial information available to the public. Interestingly, the calls for more nonprofit accountability have not focused on an important concern, that of selective disclosure. This is a practice under which an organization provides material information to some constituents while withholding it from others. This paper argues that practice is frequently observed in the nonprofit sector. As the New Era Philanthropy scandal highlighted, this practice can pose substantial risks to the nonprofit sector by facilitating fraud and harming the publics trust. The paper describes the existing nonprofit reporting requirements and potential shortcomings. It examines two alternative disclosure environments, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the federal government and corporate securities regulation, particularly Regulation Fair Disclosure, and their limitations. It will then discuss what measures could be taken to address selective disclosure in the nonprofit sector.
This publication is Hauser Center Working Paper No. 33.7. Hauser Working Paper Series Nos. 33.1-33.9 were prepared as background papers for the Nonprofit Governance and Accountability Symposium October 3-4, 2006.