Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Question Week: Accountable to whom?

"To whom are we accountable as a board?" How do we demonstrate that accountability?"


To whom is your board accountable? Do members recognize that accountability? How do they act on it? As moral and legal stewards of their organization's mission and resources, our governing bodies accept a heavy and essential accountability burden on our behalf.

I pose these questions today, hoping that the process will be old hat to many of your boards but knowing that too many others rarely - if ever - have this important conversation.

To whom are you accountable? Start by identifying all of the stakeholders who rely on you to be good, ethical leaders who ensure that all resources are used appropriately to advance your mission. Who expects transparency from you? Who needs to know that you're acting in ways that address their best interests?

Think beyond the usual suspects. Certainly, the Internal Revenue Service, grantors, foundations, and regulatory agencies monitoring your services require your attention and good-faith reporting from your agency. But what about other stakeholders? Depending on your mission area and services, others may include:

  • Clients/recipients of direct services
  • Association members
  • Volunteers
  • Staff members
  • Program alumni 
  • Community organizations supporting your mission
  • Other nonprofit collaborators
  • Individual donors
  • Public policy makers and others who help define the parameters for your work
  • Potential clients
  • Prospective volunteers
  • Future donors

What groups am I missing?

The point is, our boards need to be aware of all of those who have a vested interest in our success, especially those who have provided resources (time, money, etc.) to help advance that work. Our boards must be tuned into stakeholders' need for ethical action and transparency (fiduciary role)  from agency leaders. They need to involve stakeholders and their interests in strategic thinking and decision making. They need to be aware and inclusive of stakeholder interests as they engage in generative thinking and governance.

The other half of this coin is attention to how we demonstrate accountability to these stakeholder groups. What types of information do they need and expect from you? What measures of impact are meaningful to each group? How are you act acting on, and communicating, its accountability responsibilities to these groups?

In what areas can the board improve its performance in this area? How can staff support the board's accountability and related impact demonstration activities?

Other links in this series: 

Sunday - Question Week: 100-percent vision success
Monday - Question Week: Without resource constraints

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