The INGO Accountability Charter has two main purposes. Firstly, to provide an overall framework for current approaches that better explains – to Members, supporters, and others – who we are, what we do, why we do it, and how we do it. By developing and signing this Charter with other large international NGOs, the Members demonstrate the importance of maintaining high standards of professional conduct and accountability.
Secondly, to ensure that we keep up-to-date with – and even ahead of – evolving public perceptions and expectations of the sector, especially as many international NGOs take an increasingly prominent role in the public discourse. Like all other organisations, international NGOs need to be open about their goals, values, activities and achievements, and how they link their policy positions to their publicly accepted ‘mandate’. We also need to recognise that the non-profit sector is coming under closer scrutiny, both from those who want us to flourish, and those who may seek to curtail our activities.
Some of the drivers for greater transparency and accountability have been sparked by incidents involving non-profit organisations. There have been instances in the past where the financial mismanagement of one NGO or unsubstantiated ideologically-driven campaign messages has harmed the reputation of others in the sector. Concerns about effective management during emergencies when there are large amounts of public money involved are important to address and validate. Like entities in any sector, NGOs will inevitably make mistakes, wittingly or unwittingly, and as they become increasingly visible, so demands for accountability will increase.
We should not avoid or fear the trend towards greater accountability. After all, much of the work of international NGOs calls for greater accountability on the part of governments and the business sector. We have nothing to fear from reminding ourselves, and the public, that we are already open, transparent and professional organisations observing high ethical standards, that we deem it valuable to be held accountable for our actions, and open to improving our own performance. At a time when public trust in NGOs is far greater than for government or business, it is vital to preserve that trust by maintaining and improving our own standards. International codification of these through the Charter is an important way to achieve this.
The INGO Accountability Charter is unique in several respects:
- It is the only multi-sectoral, overarching accountability initiative. Among the Members, there are organisations working within various areas including human rights advocacy, environment protection and advocacy, development and humanitarian aid.
- It was developed by international NGOs, for international NGOs and thus contains features not present in other codes. These include specific reference to the universal principles which all international NGOs should uphold and advance: accountability for advocacy work; the sources of legitimacy; commitment to inter-generational equity and the rights of voiceless ecosystems; and the right to independence.
- It highlights a shared commitment to sustainable development.
- It provides specific reference to our commitment to transparency, and high standards of governance and operations.
- It was developed through research and expert advice provided by The Hauser Center for Non-profit Organizations at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and Paul Hohnen, a consultant specialist on accountability and reporting issues.
- It does not prevent a Member Organisation from using other codes or standards.
- It is a living instrument, which will be revised and improved with experience with the Board being responsible for addressing any calls for revisions.
For more information on the unique contribution of the Charter to NGO accountability please click here
The Charter was originally developed by the founding Members: ActionAid International, Amnesty International, Civicus World Alliance for Civic Participation, Consumers International, Greenpeace International, Oxfam International, Save the Children International, Survival International, International Federation Terre des Hommes, Transparency International and World YWCA.
The Charter recognises that it will not meet all the needs of all organisations, all at the time. Its contents represent only the core principles and commitments which its Members share. Inevitably, there will be other policies and practices that some organisations will embrace, and which could also be integrated into the Charter in the future. The aim is that the Charter text should be reviewed and potentially amended on a regular basis. Amendments can only be decided on by the Charter Member Organisations, as stated in the Articles of Association.
The Charter operates against the following definition of accountability, adopted from the One World Trust’s 2011 report Pathways to Accountability II:
“Accountability is the process through which an organisation actively creates, and formally structures, balanced relationships with its diverse stakeholders, empowering these to hold it to account over its decisions, activities and impacts, with a view to continuously improve the organisation’s delivery against its mission. ”
The Charter does however acknowledge that various valid definitions of accountability exist. The following are examples of definitions employed by other organisations:
“Based on a shared commitment to integrity in fulfilling commitments to stakeholders and to learning as the path to excellence, we measure and report on our performance against agreed principles, policies and practices, accepting responsibility for our actions and their implications for others.”
“Accountability involves two sets of principles and mechanisms: 1) Those by which individuals, organisations, and States account for their actions and are held responsible for them, and 2) Those by which individuals, organisations, and States may safely and legitimately report concerns, complaints, and abuses, and get redress where appropriate. ”
Groups of NGOs around the world, particularly those in the development field working in a specific region or on a shared theme, have increasingly been recognising the value of having joint codes or standards. These codes have been developed to establish high and consistent standards internally and to demonstrate an organisation’s accountability to the people they work with, their supporters, donors, local authorities and other stakeholders.
By adopting clear principles of operation, and being transparent about their goals, programme activities and governance arrangements, NGOs have been using such instruments to improve their performance; enhance their recognition and legitimacy; and optimise funding support.
In some cases – affecting mainly NGOs working in the development area and using public funding – agreement to a code of conduct is a pre-condition for government or foundation funding. Additionally, in most countries where there are numerous NGOs, there is specific national legislation to ensure financial accountability and good governance.
While the INGO Accountability Charter shares many of the features of codes developed by others, it has been developed to meet the special needs of the larger international NGOs which work across a diverse range of countries, cultures and issues. It was these differences, including the strong rights-based approach and engagement in advocacy, which prompted the development of this approach. See also `What is special about the Charter?’
One of the aims in the Charter’s Five Years Strategy however is to start to systematically communicate with other accountability initiatives, both inside and outside the sector, offer cooperation and encourage the development of joint standards wherever possible.
The content of the Charter provides a widely accepted code of practice that international NGOs can adopt to ensure the highest standard of conduct. The Charter highlights key areas for international NGOs to address regarding their accountability and transparency that are of concern to stakeholders and supporters. Members have found value in using the Charter to guide their choices regarding good practice and have found that membership has challenged them and helped them improve their own accountability and transparency.
Charter membership also provides a community of like-minded organisations all committed to excellent practice regarding accountability and transparency. Being part of this community demonstrates to stakeholders that Member Organisations value and are committed to accountability and transparency. Within this group issues pertaining to accountability and transparency can be discussed amongst different types of international NGOs. Making sure the Charter is relevant and useful for Members is a priority and hence discussion regarding its improvement is always welcome. This way the Charter will always be relevant to the demands of its Members, stakeholders and the general public.
The Charter Secretariat also offers support for Members providing annual workshops on issues pertinent to Members. Please click here to see the Support for Members page.
Below is a quote from a Member Organisation highlighting the benefits of being a Charter Member:
“The INGO Accountability Charter has helped us promote the importance of our own accountability as an organisation amongst our members and staff. We believe individual awareness is crucial when it comes to integrating accountability into our daily practices. The INGO Accountability Charter has also allowed us to identify areas for improvement and to share good practices with other NGOs and the public in general. Being part of the Charter gives us the opportunity to be part of a community of practice on accountability and learning.”
Head of Learning and Impact, Amnesty International
23 June 2011
Once an organisation has become a Member of the Charter, there are two main membership requirements:
- To report annually.
The Charter requires that Members submit annual reports according to the GRI framework NGO Sector Supplement (NGO SS). Read more about the NGO SS here and the detailed Reporting Requirements here. It is up to each Member to decide how to apply the reporting requirement through their organisation. The Charter does recognise that all organisations have operations at different stages of development, with different cultures and levels of experience. For this reason, it enables Members to apply it progressively within their organisation. The key point is that the whole organisation shares the core principles, even though the way of expressing or implementing may sometimes differ.
- To pay an annual membership fee.
To cover the administration costs of the Charter Secretariat, Members are required to pay an annual fee based on the overall annual income of the organisation. The membership fees are available here.
Organisations which meet the membership criteria are welcome to join the Charter. They can first contact the Charter Secretariat to express their interest or to directly submit a completed Accountability Charter Company membership application form. The Secretariat might then ask the applicant to submit additional information to assess whether it fulfils the membership criteria.
The Charter Board makes all decisions regarding membership. The Charter Secretariat will notify the organisation of the outcome once a decision has been made. If membership is granted, the organisation will be asked to sign a Statement of Adoption to confirm their membership. If the Board rejects the application, feedback will be given as to why the criteria were not met.
The Company is registered in the United Kingdom as a company limited by guarantee. It is owned by its Members and managed by a Board of Directors selected by its Members. The Members meet annually at the Annual General Meetings.
The Berlin Civil Society Center operates a small Charter Secretariat on behalf of the Members. Please click here for more information on the Center.
Please see the Governance and Management section for more information.
The Charter welcomes your opinion and feedback and is happy to answer queries, so please do not hesitate to contact the Charter Secretariat. Its contact details can be found here.
The Charter offers a mechanism to deal with complaints relating to Members’ conduct and complaints directed at the actions of the Company itself. In the first instance, complaints should be dealt with by Members or the Company. The Independent Review Panel is the review body. Please read our Complaints Handling Mechanism
for information on how to make a complaint and how it will be processed.