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The Accountable Organization
by Sandra Trice Gray

See the complete list of articles by Sandra Gray.

The Accountable Organization

Unless we undertake practices that ensure accountability, we run the risk of alienating our constituencies.

Accountability is a leadership obligation in today?s social context in which technological innovations, changing demographics, and a marketplace of ideas and products that is increasingly global have heralded profound cultural challenges. But adhering to high standards of commitment and responsibility on a daily basis does not simply happen. Accountability is the product of an organization?s values and beliefs ? about what is important, how business should be conducted, and how relationships should be maintained ? and its actions with regard to those values and beliefs.

An array of well-publicized scandals now fuel the public?s call for accountability. It is obvious that unless we as leaders address issues of accountability, others will shape them for us.

This was the rationale for the Think Tank Program for National Sector Leaders, sponsored by the Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations, Cleveland. The participating leaders reached consensus on the following definition of the accountable organization.

The accountable organization:

  • holds a public trust to improve quality of life;
  • clearly states its mission and purpose, articulates the needs of those being served, and explains how its programs work, how much they cost, and what benefits they produce;
  • freely and accurately shares information about its governance, finances, and operations;
  • is open and inclusive in its procedures, processes, and programs;
  • is accountable to all those it exists to serve, to all who support it, and to society; and
  • is responsible for mission fulfillment, leadership on behalf of the public interest, stewardship, and quality.

Specifically, the accountable organization is responsible for upholding certain key standards.

Mission fulfillment: 1) doing what it says it will do and; 2) maintaining relevance by meeting needs in an ever-changing environment.

Leadership on behalf of the public interest: Enhancing the well-being of communities and society; 2) promoting inclusiveness, pluralism, and diversity within society; and 3) educating (including appropriate advocacy and lobbying) the public, business, government, and nonprofit organizations.

Stewardship: 1) Maintaining effective governance and management; 2) generating adequate resources, managing resources effectively, supporting and recognizing volunteers, and appropriately compensating staff; and 3) avoiding conflicts of interest and abuse of power.

Quality: 1) Striving for and achieving excellence in all aspects of the organization and 2) evaluating the total organization and its outcomes on an ongoing basis.

It has become abundantly clear that demonstrating organizational accountability is a critical responsibility of leadership. Unless we undertake those practices that ensure accountability, we run the risk of alienating our constituencies as well as further undermining our credibility with our other publics. The future of our organizations as tax-exempt bodies may depend on how we provide leadership that demands accountability.


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