The Many Strands Of Accountability


It’s easy to find a cause to support. We all have ones that hit home more than others, whether they are centered on healthcare, women and children or the environment.

As a nonprofit, identifying a cause is the first step- then come the real tasks. By tasks I mean designing a project, marketing it and making sure you get the right (financial) backing. It is always good to start small and figure out your development niche. It makes it easier to pilot a project, do a test-run and then focus on improving and scaling it up.  As a supporter, you want to make sure your donation is reaching its end goal.

Nonprofits are accountable to their beneficiaries, donors, staff and external stakeholders. However, it is sad to see the terms accountability and (its close companion) transparency becoming 21st century buzzwords and that is why we are setting out on a task to pull each fragment apart and delve deeper into what it really means to be accountable or transparent.

Just a few days ago I was browsing a small disaster management charity’s Facebook page and saw a comment on a relief programme picture saying

“I am generally wary of making donations because with big organisations the money goes into operational costs and with small organisations the money can be pocketed.”

Yes, loaded accusations, but valid thoughts of a Development-Skeptic and Charity-Doubter. My response to the commenter was to do a background check, not unlike any ordinary investor. Do they disclose their accounts online? What public information is available? What have they achieved with previous donations?

What are local newspapers publishing about them?

The Charity Commission website is a good place to start for UK based Charities and Charity Navigator for the US. Charity Navigator, even rates charities according to financial health and also openness with stakeholders.

Besides disclosing their finances, how else can nonprofits be transparent? At times small commitments such as open invitations to visit projects is a small gesture that can keep nonprofits on their toes and donors faith in where their money is going. As a nonprofit you should be thinking:

“Social media is another fast and effective way to promote accountability and transparency practices.”
  • Have we got good governance within the organisation and are we sticking to best practice?
  • Are we making it easy for our donors/ potential donors/ the public to find critical information about our work?
  • Can we be the trendsetters and raise the bar higher when it comes to disclosure- this will make us a better candidate for donor-interest.

International Non-governmental Organisations (INGOs) are in a position to promote best practices among local organisations- at times the balance of local outreach capabilities mixed with a global work approach can be an excellent strategy for being transparent- i.e. you are reaching out to beneficiaries on the ground and reporting back in a timely fashion to your donors.

Social media is another fast and effective way to promote accountability and transparency practices- yes, we would like to think it is more than pretty pictures! So there you have it, a short introduction to accountability in nonprofits and how it can be achieved. We will discuss these individually over the next few days. So stay tuned for our pieces on Monitoring & Evaluation and the importance of social media for small organisations.

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