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Accountability

Here we offer in-depth perspectives and resources you can use to deepen your understanding of accountability and how to implement a plan for your organization. For more information, see Sandra Trice Gray's article on The Accountable Organization. Topics you'll find in the following article include:

This page is designed as a resource for nonprofit organizations to learn from each other about the practices, tools, and effects of organizational accountability. This site also presents information about accountability projects of corporations and government agencies because nonprofit organizations operate in a diverse and complex world where intersection, collaboration, and project modeling across sectors is very informative.

The creation of this content is the result of a recommendation from the Accountability Subcommittee of the Independent Sector Leadership Committee. This body saw a need for a virtual learning community of organizational leaders on this topic. For this reason the site has been designed as interactive. While you may simply browse it to glean information or gain a better understanding of the topic of accountability, you are also invited to post your information and ideas or to engage in online discussions.

Accountability is a mutual process: we must engage in it together for its effect to be felt in our organizations. Therefore, you are invited and encouraged to use this web site to exchange real-life practices and explore ideas in pursuit of the ways accountability can make our organizations more effective.

Overview             [ Back to Top ]

In every sector of society the issue of organizational accountability is being taken seriously. While individuals are held accountable for their actions by personal mores and judicial parameters, organizations do not have an innate sense delineating right or wrong. It is, therefore, up to the individuals who own, manage, and direct organizations to put in place policies, procedures, and a code of ethics that work to ensure the organization is answerable for its actions.

For example, the Federal Government has instituted a Whistleblower Protection Program to ensure that individuals who see wrong-doing in their offices are protected from retaliation for bringing the problem to light. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors enacted a Sunshine Ordinance to ensure that nonprofit organizations funded by the city hold open meetings and have democratically elected boards. Professional associations, such as the International Society of Engineers, have also used this concept to hold their members responsible for their actions as engineers. Corporations too address this concern through the establishment of industry-wide councils that set standards for ethical behaviors and monitor their members' adherence. The nonprofit sector has also made strides in this area. Watchdog organizations, such as the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, have taken on the task of setting forth ethical standards and providing guidelines for adherence to them.

Accountability Models and Promising Practices             [ Back to Top ]

Independent Sector established a Task Force on Accountability in 1999. The Task Force Report is an important resource on this topic because it set out the challenges, examines strategies to overcoming them, and offers four key recommendations for immediate action by organizations.

Maryland Association of Nonprofits' Standards of Excellence
This website serves to familiarize visitors with Maryland Nonprofits and the nonprofit sector in the State. It has a strong emphasis on accountability factors: see "Standards for Excellence" which offers An Introduction, the Maryland Nonprofit Ethics and Accountability Initiative, and a certification program for Maryland nonprofit organizations that practice accountability.

National Charity Information Bureau Standards in Philanthropy
One of the oldest organizations addressing standards in the nonprofit sector, NCIB offers a comprehensive approach to standards. These standards are designed to ensure accurate information and an improved level of performance by charities.

Public Schools Accountability Act
The California Department of Education has established an integrated strategy for accountability in public schools. The web site includes the legislative history leading to the Act, how schools are measured, how interventions are performed, award programs, test results, and more.

Government Accountability Project: The Whistleblower Protection Program
Here governments across the globe share accountability strategies through an international conference hosted by the International Network of Scientists and Engineers for Global Responsibility (INES2000) from June 14 through June 18, 2000, in Stockholm, Sweden. The primary focus of this site is nuclear technologies and whistleblowers, although many other aspects of technology and social responsibility are available.

Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Accountability Task Force
Another governmental example, this site represents the work of a Task Force charged with designing a national system for accountability. Of special interest are the links to sample accountability systems included in the site.

California Corporate Accountability Project
A collaborative of the Natural Heritage Institute (NHI), Human Rights Advocates (HRA), and the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainable Development (NI), this project addresses the overseas accountability needs of multinational corporations (MNCs) in developing nations where governments lack critical elements of regulatory capacity.

Global Business Responsibility Resource Center
Developed and maintained by Businesses for Social Responsibility (BSR), this site is identified as "a comprehensive, worldwide information resource on corporate social responsibility. It addresses topics such as "Retaining Ethics in Global Responsibility" and "Governance and Accountability."

EQAO is committed to accountability practices that respond to the complex and changing world we live in. We want to measure not only what students know, but how they apply their knowledge, so they will be ready for the challenges that face them in today's complex and demanding society and workplaces. We will provide information to students, parents, teachers and the public that will not only help them understand their schools better, but will contribute to better schools for everyone.

U.S. Department of Energy Office of Intergovernmental and Public Accountability
The State and Tribal Government Working Group (STGWG) helps ensure that the Department of Energy (DOE) facilities and sites are operated and cleaned up in compliance with all applicable federal and state laws and regulations, and Tribal rights including those retained by treaty, and conferred by statute and the trust responsibility; as well as in a manner that protects human health, safety and the environment.

Office of Intergovernmental and Public Accountability

Tools on Accountability             [ Back to Top ]

Complete Guide to Ethics Management: An Ethics Toolkit for Managers by Carter McNamara, Ph.D.
Consumer Expectations on the Social Accountability of Business — A survey of the Conference Board
Global Corporate Ethics Practices: A Developing Consensus — a resource tool from the Conference Board
Business for Social Responsibility Global Resource Center — Guide to Accountability
Trust This: Five Ways to be Reliable by Daniel Robin
Recognition and Accountability in the Workplace by Daniel Robin
References on corporate accountability
The Sunshine Project for Police Accountability
Citizens' Circle for Accountability—Resource Documents

Internet Links             [ Back to Top ]

Centre for Applied Ethics
Public Sector Ethics
Topics on Ethical Resources, Duke University site
An Online Human Services Community
Promoting Corporate Accountability
American Society for Ethics in Education
NetImpact—network of emerging business leaders committed to using the power of business to create a better world.
Resources on socially responsible initiatives
Northwest Corporate Accountability Project
Citizens´ Circle for Accountability
Alliance for Better Campaigns

Actions an Organization Can Take to Demonstrate
its Accountability
            [ Back to Top ]

  1. Designate accountability as an organizational priority and demonstrate leadership for this from the head of the organization.
  2. Educate the organizational leadership about the importance of accountability to the organization's mission, constituents, public trust.
    1. Discuss accountability at staff and board meetings.
    2. Exchange information on defining and practicing accountability with other organizations, one-on-one, and at conferences and through publications.
  3. Build accountability components into strategic planning processes.
    1. Ensure every organizational activity has accountability built into it.
    2. Link executive and staff performance to accountability.
    3. Create special advisory committees to examine and address the issue of accountability.
  4. Utilize the organization's website to demonstrate its accountability to its members, constituents, and the public.
    1. Prepare and post the annual report online.
    2. List staff members, their titles and means of contact (e.g., e-mail, telephone).
    3. List members of the Board of Directors and their organizational designation.
    4. Make the annual audited financial statement and/or IRS Form 990 available online.

A Checklist of Accountability             [ Back to Top ]

Key Question for grantmakers and grantseekers:
How can your organization take steps that will help it maintain the public's trust?

By making information about the organization easily available to any member of the public upon request, in recognition of the nonprofit organization's special responsibility to the public for openness in their activities:

  • current IRS form 990 (including all parts and schedules, except contributors list with amounts, which is protected under the Privacy Act)
  • IRS form 1023 (the organization's original application for recognition for tax exempt status)
  • Annual report (often contains some or all of the following items):
    1. most recent financial audit report
    2. list of contributors, at least large contributors (amounts of contributions may be disclosed only with permission of contributor — some organizations list contributors within amount ranges); donor requests for anonymity should be honored
    3. governing documents: vision and mission statements, code of ethics/statement of values, standards of practice, operation or accountability, including conflict-of-interest and affirmative action or other inclusiveness policies
    4. list of board members and officers (usually listed in annual report; form 990 includes compensation of top employees and officers); staff roster
    5. long range plan outline based on vision and mission statements
    6. any current reports on program accomplishments
    7. any ongoing evaluation procedures for assessing effectiveness for the organization, employees, managers and trustees, or outline for a process of self assessment which the organization encourages, including summary of ethics audit process.

Accountability Audit             [ Back to Top ]

An accountable organization strives to have all of the following ten mechanisms. Does your organization have:

  1. A well defined and broadly understood purpose?
    Is your purpose focused and clear? Does it answer: Who are we? What are the basic social or political needs/problems we exist to meet? What do we do to recognize, anticipate, and respond to these needs or problems? How should we respond to our key stakeholders? What makes us distinctive or unique?
  2. A clear and broadly accepted set of core values?
    Are they understood, embraced and exhibited in behavior of staff, board members, volunteers, and members?
  3. A clear and broadly understood organizational vision?
    Has it been developed in consultation with relevant internal and external stakeholders, and is it built from a process to develop and revise mission, objectives and strategies?
  4. A supportive, engaged, and knowledgeable board?
    Is it diverse and inclusive of people and ideas?
  5. A clear set of goals or a strategy that guide organizational programs or activities in the context of the organization's vision and mission?
    Does the organization's programs, projects or activities have well defined outcomes that have real impact on the world?
  6. A diversity of resources and an organizational structure that supports the strategy and vision?
    Does the organization have enough as well as the right kind of resources; e.g. financial, staff, volunteers, time, technology, etc. to achieve its goals?
  7. A 'place at the table?'
    Is your organization involved in an expansive network of people, organizations, societies, sectors [business and government] and communities; and does your organization have information to relate, collaborate as equals and/or form partnerships with other sectors of society, communities, other societies and a diversity of people? Is your organization involved in electronic networks?
  8. A system to objectively measure organizational and programmatic outcomes and provide accountability?
    Does that system include ongoing evaluation and environmental scanning that enables the organization to change as necessary?
  9. A system or process to attract, reward, retain, value and develop talented people in the organization including emerging leaders?
    Does this system naturally support a diversity of people and ideas?
  10. A systematic process that promotes effective leadership across the organization, including board, executive director, staff members and volunteers?
    Does this system encourage shared leadership and give credit to others?

Point of View             [ Back to Top ]

This space presents a thoughtful perspective on a current aspect of accountability. It is intended to help us think deeply about the ramifications of accountability in various sectors. Articles and essays in this space will change from time to time.

This month:
From GovernanceMatters.com

Competencies of Those in Leadership, Part 1
By Jennifer Loughlin

No person makes a perfect leader. There are always ways to improve.

Although the responsibilities of those in leadership vary, there are a number of competencies that are common to all of them. In this series of 6 articles, we shall look at the competencies that are needed in a Chief Executive Officer, Board Chair and Board Member, Senior Manager and Pastor.

Competencies are aspects of a person that make him or her successful at what he/she does. They are a complex combination of underlying characteristics, being influenced by that person's values and beliefs, motives, attitudes, personality traits, self-image and attitudes as well as skills and knowledge.

We can determine a person's competencies by observing their behaviour. The more effectively and consistently they display the behaviours associated with the respective competencies, the better their leadership performance. A person's competencies, therefore, are a window through which we can glimpse the person's capability.

This week we shall look at accountability.

Accountability Ÿ Acknowledges the need to evaluate work relationships and performance, willingly giving and receiving feedback.

All leaders receive their authority from someone and in turn are the source of authority for others. In the place where accountability should be most notable — amongst Christians — it is often most notably missing. Sometimes, Pastors, having been "called by God" believe they are accountable directly to Him. Like other leaders outside the church context, Pastors do not receive their authority direct from God in order to fulfill their day-by-day responsibilities. Like all leaders, they receive their authority from those who employ them and pay their salary. This means that they are accountable to them for how well they fulfill those responsibilities.

Relationships may go wrong for many reasons. Some imagine that being in of a position of leadership naturally entitles him/her to impose a personal vision upon others. Some believe that leadership automatically means being in total control and having authority to act unilaterally. Those who give authority to leaders sometimes do not fulfill their responsibility to provide the necessary affirmation. Sometimes they neglect to provide sufficient resources, leaving the leader to produce results alone and unsupported.

All too often, the key elements of a relationship are never made clear. The extent of a person's authority, specific responsibilities and expectations are never clarified.

If accountability is perceived as an opportunity to discipline or to punish, then the process is likely to be a negative one for everyone. For the Christian who has been taught consistently about forgiveness, accountability may seem hard and is sometimes perceived as unforgiving.

In reality, accountability is not a word to be feared. It is neither positive nor negative. It is simply a word meaning measurement. It is as much a measure of how the giver of authority is performing as the recipient.

The source of authority is accountable for providing adequate authorisation and resources. The recipient of authority is accountable for fulfilling his/her responsibilities and producing results. Each person is in a relationship of mutual accountability with another and it is important that this relationship is reviewed formally and regularly.

When we take time to measure performance, commend good service, encourage and generally strengthen relationships, we give a gift. When we bring leaders back to a balanced centre point, address any concerns, misunderstandings, weaknesses or inappropriate behaviour, we give a gift.

We cheat people out of this gift when we fail to hold them accountable. When we simply forgive instead of holding them accountable in a context of support and affirmation. Such gifts are sorely needed and so often not given.

A person in leadership needs the competency of accountability in order to submit him/herself to feedback from others and to sensitively give feedback to others. Only by giving and receiving feedback in a spirit of mutual accountability will leaders give and receive the affirmation and encouragement needed. Only then will they be alert to the potential to veer off course.

Because of the authority invested in them, leaders are particularly vulnerable to misusing and abusing power. Every leader needs the ability to give and receive the gift of accountability.

Jennifer Loughlin, President
Creative People Solutions
Surrey, UK

Jennifer Loughlin is the president of her own consultancy and the representative of the Relationship ModelŠ in the United Kingdom. She is a Human Resources professional and the author of this and several competency audits for board chairs, board members, CEOs, managers and pastors. See Our Services or Contact Us for more information. Visit the Imagine That Archives for the other articles in this series. Although this article is copyrighted, it is free and may be printed, copied and distributed to people within your organization. We ask only that you copy it in its entirety, including credit to the author. If you have any suggestions for future articles, please send an e-mail to: info@governancematters.com.

Additional articles can be found at the following sites:

"Full Disclosure: A Strategy for Performance" by Regina Herzlinger, Harvard Business School
 
"Assessments and Accountability," by Robert Linn, Professor at the Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing, University of Colorado at Boulder

 "The Board Chair and Accountability," by Jennifer Loughlin, President Creative People Solutions 

Acknowledgments             [ Back to Top ]

We acknowledge with special appreciation the following people, who served as members of the Independent Sector Leadership Program's Public Trust and Accountability Subcommittee, for helping to frame our focus on accountability:

John Alexander, Center for Creative Leadership
Audrey Alvarado, National Council of Nonprofit Associations 
Berit Lakey, National Center for Nonprofit Boards
Milton Little, Jr., National Urban League
William Massey, National Charities Information Bureau
Bruce Sievers, Walter and Leise Haas Fund
Bennett Weiner, Philanthropic Advisory Service, Council for Better Business Bureaus

Special thanks to Sharon Parker, Executive Diversity Consultants, for developing our pilot "Peer Learning Community" website page.

Advisors:

Richard Brown, Texaco Inc.
Jaime Carrillo, Independent Sector
Rob Collier, Council of Michigan Foundations
Roni Posner, Alliance for Nonprofit Management
Meriam Perell, Points of Light Foundation
Gretchen Van de Veer, Corporation for National Service


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