The American Red Cross has come under increased scrutiny for the way it used donations totaling more than $487 million for relief efforts in Haiti. Where cities like Campeche were expected to welcome 700 new, safe homes with adequate plumbing and rainwater collection systems by 2013, there are none, and the organization has been reluctant to allow reporters to see the progress they have made in the country or disclose findings. As organizations founded to pursue public interest, nonprofits and social enterprises are accountable for stewarding the investments and grants we receive for the greater good. Holding your agency accountable for results can seem intimidating, but at the end of the day, organizational accountability is not much different from employee accountability. Here are a few ways they are alike and some tips to increase accountability and transparency at your agency:

  • Disclose Plans – Just like we ask employees to develop annual goals and share their plans to achieve those benchmarks with their supervisors, so too should social sector organizations share their goals and plans with stakeholders. Whether executing on business or strategic plans, social sector organizations should share what stakeholders can expect along with well-reasoned, feasible plans to attain those goals. Disclosing such information not only increases transparency and builds trust, but research has also shown publicly sharing goals increases their likelihood of being accomplished. Organizations can disclose their plans by posting them on their website, highlighting them in annual reports or sharing them in newsletters or at meetings.
  • Validate Results – Employees at social sector organizations typically undergo annual performance evaluations. Similarly, social sector organizations should submit themselves to performance evaluations through internal evaluations and/or external validations. Dashboards, action maps and after-action reviews are helpful tools to increase accountability for performance internally. Externally, social enterprises can increase accountability for results by obtaining third-party certification by organizations like Fair Trade, B-Lab, Rainforest Alliance and others. Social Impact Architects is a certified B-Corporation, meaning that we hold ourselves accountable to B-Lab standards in the way we treat people and the planet. To maintain our certification, we must submit assessments and annual reports, and we are subject to external verification when asked. For nonprofit organizations, external validation can come through participating in regular audits or welcoming reviews from the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator or grantmakers like United Way.
  • Correct Your Course – When evaluations uncover that employees are underperforming, organizations typically place them on corrective plans. Social sector organizations should hold themselves to the same standard, knowing that the public does not expect them to succeed 100 percent of the time. Publicly acknowledging the results, whether positive or negative, of internal or external reviews of your agency’s progress is critical to building accountability and trust. Even if we fail to achieve our stated plans, what matters most is developing robust, more informed plans to show we are taking steps to ensure the same failures do not happen again and that what we know now will help us make better choices in the future.

In considering your social sector organization’s accountability to the public, ask whether your plans are strong or need improvement. You may be great at disclosing your plans and undergoing regular performance evaluations, but not as great at developing corrective plans. All three components are necessary for ensuring the organization continuously improves, and we’d love to hear your experiences. For ideas on how to bounce back, join us next week for our blog on resilient organizations.

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