Chapter | Reconceptualising NGOs and Their Roles in Development: NGOs, Civil Society and the International Aid System | 2007

Beyond Dependence: Conceptualizing Information and Accountability in NGO-Funder Relations

by Alnoor Ebrahim

Abstract

This paper explores the linkages between information systems and accountability in nongovernmental and nonprofit organizations (NGOs). The information systems in four NGOs are introduced: two Indian NGOs engaged in natural resource management and rural development, an education-focused nonprofit in urban Washington, D.C., and a rights-based transnational organization operating in over thirty countries. Despite the differences among these NGOs, they all face closely related challenges in developing information and accountability systems. The cases suggest that, for information systems to be useful for purposes of long-term social change, NGOs require indicators that are manageable in number and meaningful in content, information systems and technologies that are reflective of mission and values, and regular opportunities for innovation. Sometimes, such systems are simple and flexible, rather than rigorous or sophisticated. The second part of the paper challenges conventional characterizations of NGOs as being dependent on donors for money. It argues that there is an “interdependence” in which funders rely on NGOs for information that builds their reputations. This interdependence provides an opening for NGOs to challenge the nature of reporting and accountability to their donors. Finally, the third part of the paper explores how this interdependence affects the accountability priorities of NGOs and, in so doing, offers conceptual links between information and accountability.

Keywords: Giving and Philanthropy; Corporate Accountability; Information Management; Business and Stakeholder Relations; Non-Governmental Organizations; Information Technology; India; District of Columbia;

Citation:

Ebrahim, Alnoor. "Beyond Dependence: Conceptualizing Information and Accountability in NGO-Funder Relations." In Reconceptualising NGOs and Their Roles in Development: NGOs, Civil Society and the International Aid System, edited by Paul Opoku-Mensah, David Lewis, and Terje Tvedt, pp. 119–159. Aalborg, Denmark: Aalborg University Press, 2007.