Being accountable means being responsible to someone else for what you and your organisation do. This includes how your organisation behaves (service accountability) and what your organisation spends (financial accountability). Most organisations are accountable to a range of individuals and groups who may each have their own particular ways of expecting (or even demanding) that the organisation demonstrates accountability, e.g. workers are accountable to their employers and people on management committees are accountable to the group that elected them.
It is possible, and often appropriate, to delegate responsibility for tasks to others, but it is not possible to delegate the accountability for ensuring that these tasks are done accurately and completely. For example, if the Treasurer uses a bookkeeper to keep the daily finances of the organisation, the Treasurer remains accountable for the finances although the bookkeeper may have day to day responsibility for the funds. In general, organisations are accountable to:
- Clients who use the organisation (consumers)
- The community they aim to serve
- Ordinary members of the organisation who elected the committee
- Funding bodies who contribute financial resources
- The licensing body which licenses services under legislation
- Employees who work for that organisation
An organisation needs to adopt reasonable and appropriate methods of showing accountability to each of these different individuals or bodies. For example, you may need to report regularly to a funding body.
Evidence of accountability
Some forms of accountability are fixed by the funding or licensing body as a condition of the grant or service agreement, whereas other forms of accountability may be decided by the organisation itself. Evidence of an organisation's efforts in any particular role should be demonstrated in a way which suits the needs of that person or group. The Associations Incorporation Act applies to many organisations which are incorporated. The legislation requires:
- Provision of all accountability documents relating to the Annual General Meeting (for further details refer to Chapter 3: Meetings)
- Any alteration of the rules of the organisation to be made by special resolution (i.e. passed by 3/4 of the members present and entitled to vote at a general meeting) and then be submitted to the Office of Fair Trading for registration
- Any changes to holders of the offices of President, Secretary or Treasurer through resignation, death, etc, to be advised to the Office of Fair Trading within 1 month
- Numerous other requirements in relation to financial records, accounting and auditing, and business registrations of various types.
Accountability to your consumers
An organisation is accountable to its consumers if it is open about providing information, seeks feedback and involves users of the service in decision-making. Consumers should be encouraged to attend open review and planning meetings so they can understand what is happening in an organisation, and records of decisions made at meetings can be provided to consumers as required. It is also important to develop clear policies and mechanisms to deal with complaints from consumers. Chapter 8: Consumer Participation provides more detailed information about developing a consumer rights strategy.
Accountability to the community and members of the organisation
Some of your obligations to the general community and the members of your organisation might be to hold well-advertised Annual General Meetings, to publish annual reports and audited accounts, and to hold some open meetings or open days so ordinary members of your organisation and the public can attend. Also develop clear policies to deal with complaints from the public, members or consumers, objectives by which the performance of the organisation can be measured and a regular evaluation process. You might also want to consider how you can demonstrate accountability by providing information and news releases to the media, so the community or target group knows what the organisation is doing.
Accountability to funding bodies
Some of the main ways for organisations to demonstrate accountability to funding bodies are:
- Completing a Service Agreement
- Providing annual reports
- Providing annual audited accounts
- Providing quarterly financial reports of income and expenditure
- Providing data returns (details of the service provision)
- Participating in the monitoring and evaluation of your services when required
- Meeting the requirements of funding program guidelines
Each particular grant you receive will specify its own accountability requirements.
Accountability of management committee to employees, and of employees to management committees
Some of the things to consider in relation to accountability between employees and their management committees are:
- Accepting responsibility for negotiating acceptable work conditions, including job descriptions, job contracts, good worker selection processes, grievance procedures and methods of dealing with complaints and disputes
- Committees developing clear written policies, sound staff management practices and being supportive and accessible to staff - staff should be prepared to contribute to this process both initially and then in an ongoing developmental way to ensure that good practices continue
- Employees are accountable to the organisation to perform the job they were employed to do and stay accountable by providing regular worker's reports, participating in workers' assessments and regular whole-of-service evaluations