Trust and transparency: Accreditation and impact reporting by Canadian charities

Christopher Nicholas Dougherty


This article examines the public reporting of impact, defined as progress towards a charity’s mission and long-term objectives, by Canadian charities through their annual reports. The public reporting behaviour of those accredited under Imagine Canada’s Standards Program is compared with a matched sample of charities that have not sought accreditation. The objective is to explore whether trust-building activities like public disclosures of impact and third-party accreditation are convergent. The study finds that accreditation status correlates with impact measurement and reporting; both trends are linked to organizational size, and accreditation does not appear to be causing charities to increase their disclosures of impact, which suggests that there may be underlying factors driving both behaviours. These findings generally affirm earlier research that correlates organizational size with impact measurement, adding that the effect is weak.

Cet article examine comment les associations caritatives canadiennes, dans leurs rapports annuels, rendent compte de leur impact, c’est-à-dire de leur progrès par rapport à leur mission et à leurs objectifs à long terme. Cette étude compare les comptes rendus d’associations accréditées par le Programme de normes d’Imagine Canada avec un échantillon apparié d’associations qui n’ont pas été accréditées. L’objectif est de déterminer s’il y a convergence parmi les démarches entreprises pour gagner la confiance du public telles que l’accréditation par un tiers et la divulgation d’impact. Cette étude observe que les associations accréditées sont plus enclines à mesurer et à divulguer leur impact; que ces deux pratiques sont plus communes dans les grandes associations; et que l’accréditation à elle seule n’entraîne pas forcément les associations caritatives à divulguer leur impact, ce qui suggère que des facteurs sous-jacents sont peut-être responsables pour les deux pratiques. En général, ces conclusions confirment des recherches antérieures trouvant une corrélation entre la grandeur d’un organisme et le désir de mesurer son impact, bien que ce lien semble être faible.


Nonprofit self-regulation; Accreditation; Transparency; Impact reporting; Imagine Canada Standards Program / Autorégulation des organismes à but non lucratif; Accréditation; Transparence; Communication d’impact; Programme de normes d’Imagine Canada

Full Text:



Australian Accounting Standards Board. (2015). Exposure draft (ED) 270: Reporting service performance information. Melbourne: Commonwealth of Australia.

Auger, G. A. (2014). Trust me, trust me not: An experimental analysis of the effect of transparency on organizations. Journal of Public Relations Research, 26, 325-343.

Bekkers, R. (2003, December). Trust, Accreditation, and Philanthropy in the Netherlands. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 32(4), 596-615.

Benjamin, L. M. (2010). Funders as principals: Performance measurement in philanthropic relationships. Nonprofit Management & Leadership, 20(4), 383-403.

Benjamin, L. M. (2012). Nonprofit organizations and outcome measurement: From tracking program activities to focusing on frontline work. American Journal of Evaluation, 33(3), 431-447.

Benjamin, L. M., & Campbell, D. C. (2015). Nonprofit performance: Accounting for the agency of clients. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 44(5), 988-1006.

Berman, G., & Davidson, S. (2003, December). Do donors care? Some Australian evidence. Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 14(4), 421-429.

Bourassa, M. A., & Stang, A. C. (2016). Knowledge is power: Why public knowledge matters to charities. Intarnational Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, 21, 13-30.

Bovens, M., Schillermans, T., & Goodin, R. (2014). Public accountability. In M. Bovens, T. Schillermans, & R. Goodin (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Public Accountability (pp. 1-22). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Brinkerhoff, D. W. (2001). Taking account of accountability: A conceptual overview and strategic options. Washington: U.S. Agency for International Development.

Candler, G., & Dumont, G. (2010, June). A non-profit accountability framework. Canadian Public Administration, 53(2), 259-279.

Carman, J. G., & Fredericks, K. A. (2010). Evaluation capacity and nonprofit organizations: Is the glass half-empty or half-full? American Journal of Evaluation, 31(1), 84-104.

Chartered Professional Accountants Canada. (2011). Improved annual reporting by not-for-profit organizations. Toronto: Chartered Professional Accountants Canada.

Clark, C., Rosnzweig, W., Long, D., & Olsen, S. (2004). Double bottom line project report: Assessing social impact in double bottom linevVentures: Methods catalog. New York: The Rockefeller Foundation.

Cucciniello, M., Porumbescu, G. A., & Grimmelikhuijsen, S. (2017, January/February). 25 Years of transparency research: Evidence and future directions. Public Administration Review, 77(1), 32-44.

Dubner, S. J. (2017, July 12). When helping hurts. Freakonomics. URL:

Fenton, J. J., Jerant, A., Bertakis, K. D., & Franks, P. (2012, February). The cost of satisfaction: A national study of patient satisfaction, health care utilization, expenditures, and mortality. Archives of Internal Medicine, 172(5), 405-411.

Grimmelikhuijsen, S. (2012). Linking transparency, knowledge and citizen trust in government: An experiment. International Review of Administrative Sciences, 78(1), 50-73.

Gripper, R., Kazimirski, A., Kenley, A., McLeod, R., & Weston, A. (2017). Global innovations in measurement and evaluation. London: New Philanthropy Capital.

GuideStar. (2013, June 17). BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, and GuideStar join forces to dispel the charity "overhead myth". GuideStar. URL:

Hackett, S. P. (2016, April 29). Reporting service performance information exposure draft - AASB ED270. Canberra: Australian Catholic Bishops Conference General Secretariat.

Hall, M. H., Phillips, S. D., Meillat, C., & Pickering, D. (2003). Assessing performance: Evaluation practices & perspectives in Canada's voluntarty sector. Toronto: Canadian Centre for Philanthropy.

Imagine Canada. (2012). Strengthening public confidence in Canada's charitable sector: Overview of Imagine Canada's new standards program. Imagine Canada. URL:

Imagine Canada. (2014). Standards program for Canada's charities & nonprofits. Toronto: Imagine Canada.

Imagine Canada. (2016, November 15). Greater transparency would spur charitable donations: Survey. Imagine Canada. URL:

Lasby, D., & Barr, C. (2013). Talking about charities 2013: Canadians' opinions on charities and issues affecting charities. Edmonton: The Muttart Foundation.

Legowski, B., & Albert, T. (1999). A discussion paper on outcomes and measurement in the voluntary health sector in Canada. Voluntary Health Sector Project.

MacLaughlin, S. (2016). Data driven nonprofits. Glasgow: Saltire Press.

Maloney, D. (2012). The mission myth. San Diego: Business Solutions Press.

McKeown, L., & McKechnie, A.-J. (2000, Autumn). Trust, accountability and support for charities: The views of Canadians. Canadian Centre for Philanthropy research bulletin, 7(4), 1-9.

Morino, M. (2011). Leap of reason: Managing to outcomes in an era of scarcity. Washington: Venture Philanthropy Partners.

Muir, K., & Bennet, S. (2014). The compass: Your guide to social impact measurement. Sydney: The Centre for Social Impact.

Organizational Research Services. (2007). A guide to measuring advocacy and policy. Baltimore: Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Pallotta, D. (2013, March 11). The way we think about charity is dead wrong. TED. URL:

Panel on Accountability and Governance in the Voluntary Sector. (1999). Building on strength: Improving governance and accountability in Canada's voluntary sector. Panel on Accountability and Governance in the Voluntary Sector.

Philanthropic Foundations Canada. (2017). A portrait of Canadian foundation philanthropy. Montreal: Philanthropic Foundations Canada.

Plantz, M. C., Greenway, M. T., & Hendricks, M. (1997, Fall). Outcome measurement: Showing results in the nonprofit sector. New Directions for Evaluation (75), 15-30.

Prakash, A., & Gugerty, M. K. (2010). Trust but verify? Voluntary regulation programs in the nonprofit sector. Regulation & Governance, 4, 22-47.

Preskill, H., Parkhurst, M., & Splansky Juster, J. (2014). Guide to evaluating collective impact 02: Assessing progress and impact. San Francisco: Collective Impact Forum.

Salamon, L. M., Geller, S. L., & Mengel, K. L. (2010). Communique No. 17: Nonprofits, innovation, and performance measurement: Separating fact from fiction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University.

Sawhill, J., & Williamson, D. (2001, May). Measuring what matters in nonprofits. McKinsey Quarterly, 1-11.

Saxton, G. D., & Guo, C. (2011). Accountability online: Understanding the web-based accountability practices of nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 40(2), 270-295.

Saxton, G. D., Kuo, J.-S., & Ho, Y.-C. (2012). The determinants of voluntary financial disclosure by nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 41(6), 1051-1071.

Schmitz, H. P., Raggo, P., & Bruno-van Vijfeijken, T. (2012). Accountability of transnational NGOs: Aspirations vs. practice. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 41(6), 1175-1194.

Schnackenberg, A. K., & Tomlinson, E. C. (2016, November). Organizational transparency: A new perspective on managing trust in organization-stakeholder relationships. Journal of Management, 42(7), 1784-1810.

Spencer, J. (2015). Service performance reporting - Closing the performance reporting gap for NFP entities. Sydney: Chartered Accountants Australia New Zealend.

Szper, R., & Prakash, A. (2011). Charity Watchdogs and the Limits of Information-Based Regulation. Voluntas, 22, 112-141.

The Rockefeller Foundation; The Goldman Sachs Foundation. (2003). Social impact assessment: A discussion among grantmakers. New York: The Goldman Sachs Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation.

Thompson, J. C. (1992, March / April). Program evaluation within a health promotion framework. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 83 (Supplement 1: Health Promotion Research Methods: Expanding the Repertoire), S67-S71.

Tuan, M. T. (2008). Measuring and/or estimating social value creation: Insights into eight integrated cost approaches. Seattle: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Tyler, J. (2013). Transparency in philanhtropy: An analysis of accountability, fallacy, and volunteerism. Washington, DC: The Philanthropy Roundtable.

van der Heijden, H. (2013). Small is beautiful? Financial efficiency of small fundraising charities. The British Accounting Review, 45, 50-57.

Wetherington, J. M., & Daniels, M. K. (2013). The relationship between learning organization dimensions and performance in the nonprofit sector. Journal for Nonprofit Management, 90-107.