The Accountability of Voluntary Organisations: Implications for Government Funders
The mechanisms of accountability of government-voluntary sector contracting are problematic for both government agencies and voluntary organisations. If they are to be revised, new mechanisms need to be appropriate for both parties. While the public accountability system has been relatively well described and analysed, the accountability systems of voluntary organisations have not. This research aimed to explore accountability from the perspective of voluntary sector managers and board members asking to whom, for what and why they thought themselves accountable. Four organisational case studies were undertaken involving 34 in-depth interviews with managers and board members. Interview data was triangulated with document analysis and supplemented with field observations. The results showed that respondents thought themselves most accountable to their clients. Clients were prioritised because respondents were focused on maintaining their organisations' legitimacy. Being seen to provide quality services to clients meant that their organisations were viewed in a positive light by key stakeholders, including funders. A group of internal stakeholders (staff, members and the board) were considered second most important. Staff were seen as important because they delivered the organisations' services. The support of members also brought legitimacy. Government agencies were ranked third. Government funding was viewed as a 'means to an ends': an input needed to provide a quality service to clients. An implication of the findings for the reform of the accountability mechanisms of contracting is that the assumptions that the current system is based on - influenced by agency theory - may not be valid. Respondents were found to have similar goals to government agencies: achieving positive outcomes for clients. The goal incongruence assumed by agency theory was not identified.