Quick Introduction: NGO Accoutnability

Hari Srinivas
Concept Note Series E-109. November 2014

NGO accountability covers issues such as organizational management, project implementation, financial management and information disclosure. It is related with issues such as answerability, responsibility, liability, dependability, conscientiousness, reliability, trustworthiness, legitimacy, and transparency.


GOs fulfill a number of functions in areas which tend to be neglected by the private and public sectors. Due to declining public sector/governmental provision of services in many countries, NGOs have played an increasingly influential role in a variety of activities which impact upon the lives of many people.

But why do we have to look at NGO Accountability? There are a number of reasons: There has been rising visibility and stakes of NGOs' work. A crisis of legitimacy in many sectors, especially business and government, has amplified the need for NGOs as a 'counterbalance'.

More vocal advocacy by NGOs has also challenged the work of corporations, governments and international organizations, which in turn has elicited counterattacks. Their potential to address institutional failures (formal and/or informal) for global problems is also being increasingly recognized and sought out.

All these trends have put NGOs themselves in the spotlight, questioning their roles and legitimacy.

On the other hand, cases of NGO misconduct in advocacy, fund use, management, and governance, have come to light, questioning their very legitimacy and congruency with social values and expectations. Some NGO have also ignored the fact that they are answerable to key stakeholders and the constituency that they work with, for promises of performance.

Figure 1: The Context for NGO Accountability

Ultimately, accountability of NGOs needs to be grounded within the moral and value driven criteria that influence an NGO's work. These ccriteria are drawn from a number of sources, including public laws and regulations, public opinion, mass media etc.

As a consequence NGOs being able to be held accountable, the value and impact of their work increases, and a number of positive outcomes caan be envisaged, as shown in the Figure 1 above:

  • Better public policies and services from NGO partnerships and collaborations with government agencies and international organizations (including the UN)
  • Better lifestyles and resource consumption patterns from NGO partnerships and collaborations with citizens and community groups
  • Bteer awareness and understanding from from NGO partnerships and collaborations with mass media entities
  • Better green and sustainability performance from NGO partnerships and collaborations with businesses and industry entities.
It is for these reasons that we need greater NGO accountability. NGO roles in problem-solving - human rights, poverty, environment, peace-building etc. - is increasing.

There is a need for enhanced accountability in all sectors to foster and consolidate greater democracy. NGO credibility is also needed to help create institutional arrangements for global governance in a shrinking and interdependent world.

Answers need to be sought for critical questions: why accountability for NGOs? To whom should NGOs be accountable? What criteria should accountability frameworks be adopted? And who should carry out accountability exercises (NGOs themselves or third parties)?

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Comments and suggestions:
Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org