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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

OpenAI-supported nonprofits reneging on transparency promises

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In Short:

UBI Charitable and OpenResearch do not have up-to-date records of their donations and policies, raising transparency concerns. UBI Charitable aims to support initiatives offsetting societal impacts of technology with $31 million received. The lack of disclosure can lead to questions about governance practices. Transparency is crucial for nonprofits to build trust with donors. Over-disclosure poses risks, but having clear policies and practices in place is essential for accountability.

UBI Charitable and OpenResearch Lack Updated Records

Neither database mandates nor generally contains up-to-date versions of the records that UBI Charitable and OpenResearch had said they provided in the past.

Conflict-of-Interest Policy

The original YC Research conflict-of-interest policy that Das did share calls for company insiders to be upfront about transactions in which their impartiality could be questioned and for the board to decide how to proceed.

Das says the policy “may have been amended since OpenResearch’s policies changed (including when the name was changed from YC Research), but the core elements remain the same.”

No Website

UBI Charitable launched in 2020 with $10 million donated from OpenAI, as first reported by TechCrunch last year. UBI Charitable’s aim, according to its government filings, is putting the over $31 million it received by the end of 2022 to support initiatives that try to offset “the societal impacts” of new technologies and ensure no one is left behind.

UBI Charitable doesn’t appear to have a website but shares a San Francisco address with OpenResearch and OpenAI, and OpenAI staff have been listed on UBI Charitable‘s government paperwork.

Access to Records

Rick Cohen, chief operating and communications officer for National Council of Nonprofits, an advocacy group, says “available upon request” is a standard answer plugged in by accounting firms.

Miscommunication or poor oversight could lead to the standard answer about access to records getting submitted, “even if the organization wasn’t intending to make them available,” Cohen says.

Transparency in Nonprofits

The disclosure question ended up on what’s known as the Form 990 as part of an effort in 2008 to help the increasingly complex world of nonprofits showcase their adherence to governance best practices, at least as implied by the IRS.

OpenResearch solicits donations on its website, and UBI Charitable stated on its most recent IRS filing that it had received over $27 million in public support.

Importance of Transparency

It’s certainly not unheard of for organizations to share a wide range of records. Most of the largest US nonprofits reliant on individual donors publish financial statements on their websites.

Charity Navigator publishes its own audited financial statements and at least eight nonstandard policies it maintains.

Public Accountability

Kevin Doyle, senior director of finance and accountability at Charity Navigator, says having transparency is important to indicate to donors that their money is being used responsibly.

Cohen cautions that over-disclosure could create vulnerabilities but knowing what organizations were supposed to do could allow for more public accountability.

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