Accountability is making the whole process of the organization open to scrutiny. Unfortunately, most people seem to think that accountability is having their accounts properly audited and submitted to the board of directors. I think we need to go beyond financial rectitude to proper accountability where confidence is built in the organization leading to greater confidence in giving to the organization.
In fact, financial accountability only gives confidence that all expenses have proper bills and all the monies spent are accounted for. This gives no confidence in the organization or the expenses they incur. For example, if an expense of Rs 1,00,000 is incurred in an event, we only know that the monies have been spent and accounted for, but whether the event could have been done at half the cost or not is not known.
True accountability is when the basis for the decisions leading to the formation of the budget for the event are also laid before the people, so that they can gain confidence in the organization to support it further.
But this kind of accountability can become a nightmare since the more information is shared the more questions are likely to be asked. Hence the norm is usually to share as little information as possible to meet the legal requirements of running an organization, and often even less than this. This kind of questioning is seen as interfering with the ministry, rather than being seen as a means of clarifying the work of the organization and strengthening the commitment to the organization.
The real fear that most ministries have is what they would call unnecessary questions from people who do not know the ground realities. But that is not the issue. The issue is the ministries inability to communicate the ground realities. It is this communication failure, and the fear of communication failure that prevents most organizations from having the kind of accountability that not only builds a financial base for the organization but also improves decision making and helps growth.
It is this inability to communicate the realities and to communicate the basis of our decisions and the reasons for our choices that prevent most Christian organizations from having proper accountability. By starving the board, which meets once or at best twice a year and knows little of the day to day activity of the organization, of detailed information, they force the board members to approve accounts, and budgets by faith on the mission leader rather than facts. As a result, there is no real governance in the board rooms, and only expressions of faith.
But the problem is not only with the mission organizations but also with the accountability structure that often asks illegitimate questions that erodes the trust between them and makes accountability difficult. The accountability structure is to ask questions of policies, values and direction and not on the day to day running of the organization. So, they can ask whether an activity is within the purview of the organization, or if it reflects the values of the organization. But they cannot ask why a person on the team flew to a destination and then flew back the same day. That is operational and we do not go into those areas.
While the accountability structure does not go into the day to day working of the organization, the more transparency one has the more confidence it gives to individuals to support the organization.
How can this be solved? Many leaders are not necessarily good communicators. Politicians have solved this by using PRO companies. We need to hire and create a full-time communication department, not only for communication to donors, but also to communicate within the organization and to board members. Obviously, they should not be just spin-doctors but people who help an understanding of the organization to all, those within and those without.
There is a large grey area when we try to decide what should be shared and what not. Essentially, the board is not to go into the day to day running of the organization, and so such information need not be shared in detail. What needs to be shared is the rationale behind new initiatives, policy decisions taken, key issues being faced by the organization etc.
Since many Christian organizations are small they cannot have a full-fledged department, but should out-source this communication to professional communication organizations. This is a space where the Christian community can think of providing experts to help organizations who are seeking help.
In India, there is a huge credibility gap between the laity and ministries. This is the only hope of bridging this credibility gap and making the resources of the kingdom available to the kingdom of God.