13 Nov Shelagh Gastrow: Ensuring accountability and vigilance in the non-profit sector
Posted at 11:55h in Media and News
On occasions staff members of an organisation ask the question – where do we go when we see that our organisation is not doing what it claims to do? Or on occasion, a donor has concern that the funding provided is not being used appropriately. Unfortunately, there are non-profit organisations that have public benefit status that are not meeting their obligations. The question is then, what is the line of accountability and where does the buck stop?
There are parallels between non-profits and commercial entities, but when it comes to accountability, shareholders generally have significant self-interest in ensuring that governance is held to account (that does not mean that things cannot go awry as they did with Steinhoff). In the non-profit sector, however, people are not always vigilant, and the focus is usually on outcomes or impact rather than governance. As a result, we have recently had many questions relating to non-profit governance, the choice of board members who are often self-appointed and personally closely linked to the founder or leader. When people establish a non-profit it is very difficult to identify and attract board members as there is generally no payment for their services, but ultimately this can lead to dysfunctional, apathetic and sometimes totally absent board members. On the other hand, enthusiastic board members can confuse their roles with management and there are no boundaries set as to what governance roles are and what management roles are. This can be very undermining for an organisational director, especially when board members give direct instructions to staff who are confused as to whom they report.