I have attended many conferences, where various organisations provided attendees with well covered and attractive annual reports. These reports are also very often made available on their websites, making them accessible to a larger audience. This effort aimed at encouraging transparency and accountability is well-intended and applauded. It is essential that the nonprofit sector not only preach accountability, but also walk the talk, leading by example.
However, it is imperative that it is questioned to whom we are accountable-donors, funders and the general public. What about those whom these organisations are meant to serve? Is enough effort made to ensure that organisations account to them as well? After all, organisations do not exist merely for the sake of existing. Nonprofit organisations come into existence because of certain needs in a particular society. So it makes sense that those whose lived experiences and needs, lead to the birth of particular programmes and organisations are kept well informed on the work of organisations operating in their communities. Excluding them from the processes of transparency and accountability borders on the exploitation of their needs and suffering.
This may seem harsh, but considering that organisations are not funded to merely exist but to serve a particular group of people, it only seems fair that that group of people is aware not only of the operations of the organisations, but also how funds secured in their name are used.
It may seem an unfair burden to place on already overburdened and sometimes understaffed organisations. However, not doing so amounts to the same thing as a government accountable to the party in power, rather than the citizens of the state - something often called out by many organisations involved in advocacy work. Apart from the need to ‘walk the talk’, there is a need for the nonprofit sector to transform from being an industry that decides what is best for the poor and vulnerable to something that allows people to reclaim their dignity by exercising their agency. Accounting to those served would be a great start to achieving this. The sector provides valuable services to many in the country, as such, every effort should be made to ensure that it takes the steps required to literally ‘be the change it works to achieve’.