Accountability in your nonprofit is a necessity to operating with excellence.I receive calls and emails from many individuals who want to start a nonprofit. The reasons for starting a nonprofit vary but frequently I hear something like, “well if I start a nonprofit, I don’t have to answer to anyone.” I have heard this phrase or something similar so often that I feel compelled to address it. When I hear this, it tells me that the individual does not want to be accountable.
Accountability can be broadly defined as being responsible for one’s actions.
Accountability is essential for any society to function.
So, you might ask, who are nonprofit leaders accountable to? It is important for anyone starting a nonprofit to understand that they may be the organizational founder, but they do not “own” the nonprofit. It is the view of the IRS that the public owns the organization in exchange for the tax benefits received by the nonprofit. The IRS gives the board of directors the responsibility of ensuring that the nonprofit is being operated in an ethical manner and fulfilling its mission.
I have seen many nonprofits formed with a board of directors that are friends of the founder. While this may be a good starting point for the organization since these are individuals known by the founder, the board needs to be able to separate board responsibilities from friendship. Often, not an easy task. As the nonprofit grows, it will be important to recruit and attract additional board members who can act in the best interest of the organization.
In addition, the leader of the nonprofit is accountable to those who provide funding for the organization. Grant funds and individual donations are given to an organization for a specific purpose and they must be used for that purpose. If they aren’t, the misuse or misappropriation of funds can actually be a criminal offense.
It is a dangerous situation when we think we are accountable to no one. It is very helpful to have an accountability partner, someone who can give you guidance and direction and, above all, question why and how decisions are being made. Are you putting your own personal interests above those of the organization? What are your motives?
I encourage you to find a trustworthy individual to hold you accountable for your behaviors on a daily basis; someone who will act boldly and “call you out” when your decisions are less than honorable.
Thanks for the article. One element of this conversation is how the community benefit organization world responds to the desire for more emperically-based accountablility. Outcomes and impact, as opposed to outputs, is a common conversation now. A challenge is, though, that becoming a data-driven, outcomes based organization involves not just a new task to accomplish but a new way of thinking about and operating the whole organization (if that goals is wholistically considered). New mind-frames, new skills, more adaptability, more "non-direct survice" work, etc. If we really believe in our visions for the future, though, these disciplines are mandatory. The option is to do work that tends to feel good to us, and that does have an identifiable outcome, but one that, in fact, maybe not really be "moving the needle" in the direction of the vision of the organization (therefore mis-spending valuable resources).