Is your organization aligned on its Point of Accountability?

Recently we heard a funder’s excitement about the clear purpose, and conviction to achieve it, that a grantee had gained after working with us. In fact, the funder wanted that same clarity for themselves. It reminded us that clarity of purpose and accountability is a rare thing.

We refer to this clear purpose as an organization having clarity on its point of accountability. It means there is alignment across the organization on the end result it will hold itself accountable for achieving. Organizations that are clear about their point of accountability transform their good work into their best. They become more impactful by aligning their resources and time to achieve this clear outcome. There’s no question that having a clear point of accountability, and a plan to deliver it, is a more compelling message to funders than an overview of programs or a list of activities.

This concept applies whether you are a funder, association, direct-service organization, environmental NGO, or social-purpose business. What impact will your organization make in the world? What is the result all of your programs and activities together are aiming to achieve? If you can articulate this result, and build a strategy that demonstrates your accountability to that impact, good work becomes great work.

Let’s consider an example, on a personal level. If you were trying to lose weight, that’s what you’d be looking to hold yourself accountable for achieving – losing 10 pounds might be your point of accountability. You’d be encouraged to tell people about this objective, to strengthen your commitment to it and enable others to support you (just as we’d encourage you to tell funders and the community about the impact your organization aims to have). You might buy special foods, attend classes, exercise, etc. But, if in the end, all of this activity did not result in you losing the desired weight, you’d want to find out why and search for different solutions – because you’re accountable for the end result, not just the activities, and because you’re not satisfied until you’ve achieved it. This is what we’re talking about – getting the whole organization aligned on the end result you’ll hold yourselves accountable for achieving, and not just on the activities or programs you’ll deliver… because it will drive you to solve for achieving that worthy end objective.

This approach pushes us to look beyond the things we can tightly control. It may be hard, but we can commit to walking five kilometers twice a week and we can commit to cutting out ice cream (or whatever we think it will take to lose those 10 pounds). It’s in our control to do. We can’t directly control what effect this will have on our weight, but when we’re committed to the end goal, we’ll figure it out. Organizations need to similarly push themselves. It’s not about building awareness or delivering a specific type or number of programs, or even about the number of people served – this is not what an organization is accountable for. It’s about the impact that these programs, and everything else the organization does, have on people’s lives. Then we can figure out what it takes to deliver on that significant outcome.

Stepping up to define our point of accountability for the outcome is a game changer. There is no requirement for charities, nonprofits or social-purpose businesses to be clear about their point of accountability, and it’s not yet the norm. Organizations can carry on doing good work without this. However, by articulating and committing to your point of accountability, and building strategies to achieve it, you can achieve something greater. And who wouldn’t want to get their staff, community and funders excited about what they can achieve? Take the challenge, and step up to define your organization’s point of accountability, as a first step to delivering something great.