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Gift or Gamble? With Accountability, Donors Should Never Have a Doubt

According to Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, the word accountability entered the English language in 1794 and means 'an obligation or a willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions.' Honoring that obligation has always been the hallmark of nonprofit organizations that believe in accountability, and it still is. But other definitions, offered to Advancing Philanthropy by a range of people working in or with nonprofits, go further to illustrate that accountability is a vision as much as an achievable reality.

'Accountability is the charity living up to its role as a steward of the public trust,' says Paulette V. Maehara, CFRE, CAE, president and CEO of AFP. 'It's the philanthropic sector keeping up its end of the pact we've made with government and the public.'

'Accountability means that I made a claim and later I substantiate it by reporting why, how, and the impact I made,' says AFP member Mal Warwick, a consultant and author of The Five Strategies for Fundraising Success.

'It comes down to professional integrity,' says Susan Raymond, director of research and analysis with Changing Our World, Inc. 'It's what you do even when no one is looking.'

'Accountability is the desire to promote the highest standards for a nonprofit,' says Peter Shiras, senior vice president for programs at Independent Sector.

As these thoughtful definitions suggest, accountability means an organizationwide commitment to the prin- ciples of honesty and transparency. Acting on that commitment translates to self-assessment of operations against a set of standards, and of best practices in governance, financial integrity, program evaluation, fundraising, and stewardship. Raymond says, 'It's not that nonprofit accountability is needed now more than ever. No, it's that nonprofit accountability is still needed-- and should have been practiced forever.'

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