Driving the NGO effectiveness and accountability debates are a number of issues that have come to the fore over the last two decades. First, while NGOs have remained fairly resilient to threats to their reputation, they have suffered from a general lowering of trust. While the demand (and the need) for civil society engagement in public policy has increased the mandate of NGOs to hold others to account and serve as voices for the poor and marginalised has been challenged and questions are being asked of their legitimacy and accountability. Overly ambitious claims about impact and influence in their own promotional material have not helped.
Second, resources have become more difficult to access for a range of NGOs especially at this time of financial crisis. There is increasing competition from for-profit organisations and others crowding the humanitarian ‘space’. In addition, in a range of countries national NGOs find themselves subject to regulatory regimes which limit or tightly control access to funding from abroad.
Third, pressure has increased on NGOs to demonstrate the impact they are having on society and NGOs will need to further step up to meet accountability outcomes. There is more demand for civil society engagement in the context of global governance initiatives and an urgent need to demonstrate added value. Donors, NGOs and regulatory authorities are putting more emphasis on metrics to measure outcomes and there is a growing use of comparative methods which require NGOs to improve knowledge management and demonstrate accountability through subjecting themselves to benchmarking against sector standards and codes of conduct.
NGOs can engage positively with the accountability challenge by further networking and proactively developing new standards and codes that suit their needs, raising the bar for NGO performance and accountability.