Let's not overdo it on accountability, governance professor tells Acevo conference

Helmut Anheier of the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin says the "audit society" will make non-profits defensive and unable to do their jobs

Helmut Anheier
Helmut Anheier

Charity leaders must lobby against ever greater accountability requirements, delegates were told at Acevo’s annual conference today.

Speaking at the event in London today, Helmut Anheier, professor of sociology and dean at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, said he was concerned about the growing expectation for the voluntary sector to become more accountable.

"Why I’m concerned is that continual emphasis on good governance and accountability will ultimately put non-profits on the defensive, making it very difficult for them to meet these expectations, unless we take a proactive solution and steps in that direction," he said.

Anheier, who was Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics between 2001 and 2009, said the debate about the need for charities to be more accountable stretched back almost 20 years, but was now getting louder.

"It is the ‘audit society’, general institutionalisation, the suggestion that more and more mechanisms are needed to reassure us that things are okay," he said. "This is merged with ideas of good governance, which are now the prime directives for voluntary organisations."

He said that putting emphasis on accountability undermined the reasons non-profit organisations exist.

Innovation in accountability should be encouraged in the charity sector, he said. He advocated demonstrating the academic Jonathan Koppell’s "five dimensions of accountability": transparency, legitimacy, controllability, responsibility and responsiveness.

"It should be acknowledged that full accountability is beyond what non-profits can and should do," said Anheier. "New forms of self-regulation and smart reporting should be encouraged.

"Lobby against new directives for ever great accountability requirements – let’s not overdo it."

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