Chapter | The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management | 2010

The Many Faces of Nonprofit Accountability

by Alnoor Ebrahim

Abstract

Calls for greater accountability are not new. Leaders of organizations, be they nonprofit, business, or government, face a constant stream of demands from various constituents demanding accountable behavior. But what does it mean to be accountable? By and large, nonprofit leaders tend to pay attention to accountability once a problem of trust arises-a scandal in the sector or in their own organization, questions from citizens or donors who want to know if their money is being well spent, or pressure from regulators to demonstrate that they are serving a public purpose and thus merit tax-exempt status. Amid this clamor for accountability, it is tempting to accept the popular normative view that more accountability is better. But is it feasible, or even desirable, for nonprofit organizations to be accountable to everyone for everything? The challenge for leadership and management is to prioritize among competing accountability demands. This involves deciding both to whom and for what they owe accountability. This chapter provides an overview of common dilemmas of nonprofit accountability, lays out tradeoffs inherent in a range of accountability mechanisms, and closes with insights for practice.

Keywords: Crime and Corruption; Corporate Accountability; Governing Rules, Regulations, and Reforms; Taxation; Leadership; Management; Nonprofit Organizations; Behavior; Trust;

Citation:

Ebrahim, Alnoor. "The Many Faces of Nonprofit Accountability." Chap. 4 in The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. 3rd ed. Edited by David O. Renz, 110–121. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.