WE Charity’s donors and corporate partners are rightly shaken by all of the recent disclosures about what is going on at WE. As Craig and Marc Kielburger acknowledged in their apology, WE Charity’s integrity and purpose are being questioned. This has harmed the trust that Canadians have in WE and the charity knows that it needs to address it.
WE Charity’s co-founders, Craig and Marc Kielburger, have promised to more closely examine WE Charity’s internal structures and governance and yesterday they announced a few first steps.
To build on these first steps We Charity may want to consider three additional items to shore up donor confidence. These are simple and can be done within the next few weeks.
1. Hire top-tier auditors
WE Charity is one of Canada’s largest charities, receiving more than $60 million each year in support. It has global operations, with both its international development work and also its WE Charity affiliates in the US and UK. It has a highly complex structure with multiple entities and related parties, such as Craig and Marc’s private business ME to WE. It has grown far beyond the teenage start-up from Thornhill, Ontario.
Yet, despite this expansion, it has retained the same auditors. With the greatest respect for Kestenberg Rabinowicz Partners LLP and to Swiantek, Kling & Pasieka LLP in Niagara Falls, New York, WE Charity should consider a switch to a top-tier auditor.
Yes, a top-tier auditing firm will cost more money. However, this would give WE Charity’s donors and corporate sponsors more confidence. WE Charity aspires to be transparent and accountable. A top-tier auditor would signal far greater credibility than other endorsements. This is money well spent.
WE Charity’s fiscal year end is August 31. Charity Intelligence suggests that WE Charity announce a new auditor as soon as possible.
2. For governance, WE Charity could add more independent directors
Charity Intelligence has concerns about WE Charity’s directors’ independence. Currently WE Charity Canada has four directors. One director served as Deputy of Operations at ME to WE, the private business of Marc and Craig Kielburger. The chair, a York University faculty member and former staff member with the Toronto Catholic District School Board, was Marc Kielburger’s high school teacher.
Given the complexity of WE Charity and its financial issues, the new Canadian directors should be fit for purpose. WE Charity is a distinct entity from ME to WE. This could be reinforced with additional independent directors who are arm’s length from ME to WE.
WE Charity has close connections with corporations and leaders. These people with experience should serve as directors. It would be appropriate for WE Charity’s board to have eight to twelve directors to bear the workload as it works through this crisis.
As well, WE Charity’s staff must be distinct. WE Charity, WE Charity US, and ME to WE should consider separate chief financial officers.
3. Close the co-founder loophole
To Craig and Marc, you have built a great Canadian success. You should be immensely proud of being co-founders of WE Charity and ME to WE. By all means keep ‘co-founder’ in your title. But you need to take on a position that has fiduciary responsibility and accountability.
There’s a co-founder loophole. Co-founder is not recognized as a position in governance. There are no requirements under Canadian accounting rules to note transactions to co-founders. Co-founders are not listed on government filings.
Co-founder is a warm and fuzzy title that carries no fiduciary responsibility and no disclosure requirements. As a co-founder, there is no accountability.
You believe in WE Charity. Please show this commitment by stepping up as directors of WE Charity and WE Charity US.
Additional reading: Charity Intelligence's report on WE Charity
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