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9/14/2003

Non-profit organizations require accountability

By Richard Honey
Special to the Times-Call

Do you feel like the company you work for is poorly managed? Talking to your immediate supervisor might not draw attention to your concerns. So, how do you initiate change at higher levels within the organization?

In a “for profit” organization accountability is ultimately to the shareholders — even though it’s generally the employees who bear the consequences of those decisions. When you are working for, or even volunteering for a non-profit organization, then the accountability for actions lies with the community at large — the volunteers who donate their time, the community of people who benefit from the non-profit organization and the financial supporters of that organization — whether it be an individual donating $5.00 or grants out of taxpayers money.

The difference between being able to seek out remedial action in a for-profit versus a non-profit is vast. In a normal for-profit company employees do not have access to board practices and decisions. However, they can seek out people with similar concerns, take those to their immediate supervisors and progress any remaining issues up the management ladder. In contrast, in a non-profit organization there are more direct courses of action open to you because of the accountability factor mentioned earlier. You have the right to attend meetings and be involved with how the organization is run.

A non-profit organization, benefiting from taxpayer money is supposed to be run in an open and democratic way where one person’s will is not imposed on the whole organization. To forestall that kind of behavior, the rules for non-profits are different from private organizations. Remember, board meetings for non-profits are open invitation, their financial statements are a matter of public record as is any other information relating to how that organization is managed and how taxpayers’ money is spent. For example, grant money should be spent on the purchase or expense for which it was issued. When not set aside and spent as directed, it is a clear misuse of funds. So what could you do about this and similar concerns?

Attend those board meetings. Make sure agenda items and outcomes are clearly minuted. If you are concerned about decisions made for the organization, make sure the pros and cons are clearly minuted — as well as the vote. If you are at a board meeting and any board member says, “I didn’t do this because I didn’t want to,” object; this is inappropriate behavior — especially if the item in question was directed by the board. Take an interest in the discussion and the way in which a decision is reached. Make sure you follow-up and decisions reached by the voting members of the board are followed through. Remember: Non-profits that receive a portion of their moneys through grants and donations are accountable to you, your next door neighbor, and people and organizations who have donated money in the past and the volunteers who spend their time adding to the quality of the service provided. Get ALL these people and organizations interested in what is going on.

Undemocratic and dictatorial boards will cause untold damage to an organization. Where possible stand up, say your piece and draw attention to your concerns. It may take some time, but if you wish to stay involved with the organization and you seek change for the better your concerns will get addressed and remedial action will be taken.

Richard Honey is a personal coach and trainer with an emphasis on productivity in the workplace. He can be reached at 720-935-0287.