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There is an ever increasing interest in the legal sector to explore more effective and efficient ways to regulate corporations. This interest includes the redirection of energies from a regulatory system to one of governance. Conventional means of regulation function through a deterrence approach to regulation (Malloy, 2003), which is typically adversarial and punitive (Ruhnka and Boerstler, 1998). The regulatory approach, based on tradition, has brought forth numerous benefits such as cleaner air, safe products and diminished discrimination. Some professionals believe that the strictest and least flexible approaches to regulation can result in organizations taking an adversarial approach to regulators rather than making an attempt to adhere to the law (Malloy, 2003).
This essay will address the issue of accountability within the non-profit and the educational environments. Also, the author will define processes of assessing governance performance as well as an overview of an effective governance model. Finally, the author will provide readers with standards of accountability for volunteer workers within organizations.
Organizational Accountability in the Educational Environment
Organizational accountability looks different depending on the environment. For example, control of a for-profit organization will look different than control of a non-profit organization. Likewise, within the different non-profit environments there can be variance in the governance process.
Within the non-profit and the educational organizations, accountability can look quite different. In the field of education, there exist three primary types of accountability systems: regulatory compliance, conformity to professional standards, and a focus on outcomes (May, 2007). These outcomes are based on specific principles. According to Jo Anne Anderson (n.d.), the first system aligns with state and federal statutes and regulations such as those set forth by the state and federal Departments of Education or the Office of Special Education Policy. The second system exists because of non-mandated professional norms. These norms can be the result of organizations such as the National Education Association, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, or the American Educational Research Association. These systems set forth a level for acceptable and best practices that holds educators accountable to their peers. The third accountability system is built on results (student achievement). This system stems from an increase in governmental involvement in education. The No Child Left Behind Act is an example of how the government of the United States is holding educators accountable for student achievement as well as a level of accountability to the general public.
Organizational Accountability in the Non-Profit Environment
Non-profit organizations, like educational organizations, have an obligation to the public to conduct business accountably and with transparency (Boris, 1999). It is important for non-profit organizations to openly communicate to the public with information regarding mission and vision, specific activities, successes and decision making strategies. Non-profits must always remain accessible to the public and establish a high level of external visibility in order to ensure that the public understands and trusts the organization.
Accountability is imperative in all organizations. In the non-profit sector, the organization must meet the legal requirements pertaining to reporting, and must show the highest levels of responsibility towards the use of resources, ensuring that they are being used to support the organization's mission and vision and to benefit the organization to the greatest extent possible (DeVita & Fleming, 2001).
Governing boards are critical to the accountability systems of both non-profits and the educational environment. The board should hold responsibility for financial audits with the support of the executive director (in the non-profit/private sector) or the superintendent (in the educational setting. Both organizations have the responsibility of establishing and carrying out performance measures that are concise. The results should be shared with the public. There are also industry standards exist that all non-profits should follow.
Boards of directors should practice transparency by providing information to the general public, describing their decisions and how they came to make those decisions. Non-profit boards should ensure that their constituents are provided opportunity to interface with them and with upper management regarding ongoing activities.
Assessing Governance Performance
Evaluating governance can be quite challenging due to the multi-faceted characteristics of governing bodies. A plethora of assessment instruments to assess governance have surfaced in the past several years and have impacted how governance is measured (Kaufman, Recanatini and Biletsky 2002; Johnson, 1995). The approach differs depending on the objectives of primary focus. These can range from raising awareness or determining priorities. Often times, these objectives are complementarily linked together.
One of the primary principles of governance is the evaluation of performance. The evaluation process must be completed for both the chief officer as well as the governing board, and it must be competed based on pre-established criteria. This process alleviates any guess work from the evaluation process. Also, this same approach can add value to the decision making process by establishing the appropriate governance model for the board to utilize.
When developing a governance model, it is important for the key stakeholders to develop a concise list of the criteria which holds the greatest value. This allows them to make choices that align with the organization.
Criteria for an Effective Governance Model
It is important that the organization selects criteria that ensure a positive impact on not only the system, but also a more global level. This requires that the Governing Board maintain an acute focus developed through positive relationships with the organization's key leaders.
The governing body of the organization should be the board, not the Chief Officer. It is important that job descriptions for the governing board are created and revisited frequently for effectiveness. Oversight is critical, so written guidelines should be put in place to ensure that the Governing Board is conducting within the law and with ethics. A governance model must ensure that there is a clear understanding of the role of the board and the Chief Officer. The governance model should clearly state that the Chief Officer have the support and opportunity to communicate openly with the board when its members are not adhering to the policies set forth.
A governance model should support a healthy workplace and safe working relationships between board members, the Chief Officer and the board, the board and the Chief Officer's staff, and between the board and their committees. The model should also ensure written processes for the evaluation of the Chief Officer as well as performance objectives and evaluation processes for the Board and its members.
Fiduciary responsibility is critical to the efficiency of the organization. This includes a high level of transparency and open communication between all stakeholders. This transparency can be demonstrated through reports (such as an annual report) containing information on specific activities and outcomes. This report, according to Robert Ballantyne of the Governance Corporation, should include explanations of the organization's vision statement, activities and outcomes; an explanation of how services can be accessed; an overview of the finances of the organization including income and expenses; a list of current board members, staff and other contributing members of the organization.
Non-profit organizations have the responsibility of making available any information pertaining to fees and services. When the agency charges for services, it has the obligation to set it's prices fairly and to consider the consequences of denying services to anyone who is unable to pay.
A non-profit organization should also have protection in place should there ever be reason for an individual to report another person or entity for misconduct. There should be no negative repercussions for the person making the report.
A non-profit organization should always ensure that they do not discriminate and that they provide the highest level of confidentiality to their customers.
Accountability of Volunteers in the Organization
Many organizations, especially non-profits, rely heavily on volunteers for many of the day to day functions. Accountability is critical whether or not the worker is being paid to work. Supervisors are responsible for providing both negative and positive feedback to support professional development of the volunteer and the organization. One of the roles of a supervisor of volunteers is to effectively train them so that they have experiences that are worthwhile from both a personal and professional perspective. This may include the development of new skills, the ability to have opportunities for new experiences and to increase their professional networks. Offering negative feedback or dealing with volunteer job performance issues can be one of the most difficult tasks that leaders face.
The National Center for Volunteering suggests that the vision and the mission of the organization lay the foundation for what volunteers can do to support the organization. The organization must have in place policies for relations between volunteers and staff, how disciplinary actions will be carried out, and how communication will be handled. The creation of the vision and mission for volunteers provides a wonderful opportunity for collaboration with workers on the development of an effective culture for volunteers within the organization, ensuring that the volunteers are made integral members of the organization and that they receive appropriate support by other staff members.
To summarize, as organizational leaders define and refine methods for measuring governance, and face the challenge of improving governance, it should be understood that these processes will highly likely vary across different settings. The contemporary field of organizational governance assessment will evolve as learning takes place. There are many challenges resulting from variances in methodology and interpretation of practice. Ongoing research will be integral to addressing these future challenges.