How to best use the Charter at national level?
10 June 2015
Markus Hesse, Managing Partner – Europe, direct impact group, previously Vice President Finance & Strategy at CBM
Darren Ward, Managing Partner – Australasia, direct impact group, previously National Director CBM New Zealand
Background and Objectives
As part of the Charter’s strategy revision beyond 2015, it was agreed to prioritise strengthening global collaboration on CSO accountability practice as one of the three overarching objectives. This also means reaching out to national or regional offices, providing relevant information in other languages besides English (see e.g. the Charter Commitments in Spanish), and drafting minimum requirements for national offices to comply with Charter commitments.
Interviews conducted in this regard with 12 CEOs of Charter Member national entities showed that there is very little knowledge about the Charter at national level, yet great support for its values and commitments. This is a lost opportunity when we look at why ICSOs have joined the Charter globally with all their national entities. They did this, among others, for the following reasons:
1.) As ICSOs decentralise and place power in the hands of many more people across the world, it is all the more important to have a shared understanding of our identity and values – something all national offices share. Therefore, national offices should be encouraged to promote a standardised global framework ahead of more national frameworks.
2.) The brand of an organisation is a great added value for each national member. It needs to be protected by ensuring consistent quality of work across the globe.
3.) We have multiple accountabilities to stakeholders in various locations: beneficiaries, donors, staff, governments, our Boards etc. A globally consistent frame is needed to manage them systematically.
4.) Accountability is not a reporting exercise, but a culture. We undermine this culture when following a multitude of different and partly competing accountability codes instead of one consistent vision and practice.
5.) Senior management applies the Charter’s accountability commitments to improve the quality of strategic planning and organisational development and to support strong and globally consistent risk management. Only if it is ensured that everyone knows who is responsible for understanding and addressing risks in each part of the organisation, can we deliver on our commitments to stakeholders.
6.) Comparing notes with and learning from peer organisations will improve accountability practice and strengthen the reputation and credibility not only for our own organisation but also for the whole sector.
Challenges and Potential Solutions
The Charter’s Independent Review Panel regularly points out that it is the headquarters’ responsibility to ensure that national offices comply with the Charter commitments and accountability practice. However, this is not just a compliance issue; it is a question of motivation and being able to share with the national entities where the added value of the Charter is. Challenges raised by participants from CBM, Amnesty International, CARE, Transparency International, and ActionAid included:
Preference for a national code as those are in the limelight of national attention; no interest to comply with a multitude of reporting requirements.
♦ Potential solution:
It is very likely that 85% of what you report on nationally is also in the Charter reporting requirements – only in a different format. However, the Charter does not require a certain format for the report. You can just integrate the relevant information into your annual report which you compile and publish anyway.
Moreover, the Global Standard for CSO Accountability is envisaged to reduce the multiplicity of reporting on a global scale in the future. It is suggested to use this core agreement of CSO accountability as an entry level code on the national basis.
People are interested and committed to high standards of accountability, but do not find the time to fulfill it.
♦ Potential solution:
The Charter will only add value at the national level if it is perceived as something that helps you in your day-to-day work. The Charter will therefore provide some communication material and persuading narratives which highlight specific ways in which the Charter has helped fundraisers, programmers, communication staff etc. at the national level. It is furthermore suggested to identify internal champions in your organisations that promote creating and sustaining collective spaces of collaboration.
The Charter is little understood and seems a generic document rather than something that is of concern to our specific organisation.
♦ Potential solution:
The Charter’s Independent Review Panel provides very detailed and individual feedback to all Charter Members once a year on their report. This is a huge opportunity to bring together cross-functional and cross-geographical teams to discuss the relevance and future progress of their work and how to drive accountability practice to ensure organisational development (find some more information in another webinar outcome addressing this particular issue).
Actively disseminating the Charter’s peer learning opportunities with colleagues in national offices is another way of strengthening a shared accountability concept within an organisation.
Developing engaging and effective promotional material outlining the benefits of membership for national Boards would help to promote the Charter and make it more accessible.
CSOs find it difficult to demonstrate impact and attributed change to accountability actions.
♦ Potential solution:
It is expected that demonstrating impact of Charter membership would ultimately support access to funding. A recent research on CSO performance in regard to environmental sustainability showed that Charter Members performed best in class. A national entity of a Charter Member was provided a corporate fund because of its international headquarters’ commitment to the Charter. Building on these first insights, the Charter Secretariat aims to develop a more comprehensive piece of research around Charter Members’ performance on key indicators of accountability.
Members are very welcome to inform the Secretariat of individual good practice examples resulting from their Charter membership.