DYO | Strengthening accountability through including beneficiaries in evaluation processes

DEVELOP YOUR ORGANISATION | Develop Your Accountability

What role do beneficiaries have when it comes to accountability in nonprofit organisations? Do beneficiaries have a right to be included in accountability processes and how might this be done? Could beneficiaries’ participation in evaluating the organisation offer a way of doing this?

These questions were explored by current PhD candidate Kylie Kingston, in her Master of Philosophy research. Kylie conducted a multiple case study to explore how evaluation can enhance accountability to beneficiaries in nonprofit organisations.

As those who receive the goods or services provided by nonprofit organisations, beneficiaries are important people. Yet, they are frequently overlooked in organisation’s accountability processes because they don’t have the power to demand accountability in the way other groups do. Consider, for example, donors or regulators like the government, who typically have the power to demand receiving accounts through grant acquittal processes or reporting requirements. Organisations usually respond promptly because their funding is dependent upon it. Beneficiaries, on the other hand, don’t have this ability to demand accounts, making it harder for them to be heard or have an impact on the organisation. The lack of power to demand an account means organisations need to be mindful of creating ways to include beneficiaries in accountability processes.

One means of including beneficiaries in an organisation’s accountability processes is through their participation in evaluating the service. This gives beneficiaries a way to voice their thoughts and have an impact upon the organisation. But is evaluation something that beneficiaries want to be involved in? The results of this research showed that overwhelmingly, they do. However, the way to do this differs depending upon the type of involvement beneficiaries have within the organisation. For example, when beneficiaries were heavily involved within the organisation in an ongoing and long-term way, they wanted to be involved in regularly evaluating the organisation in order to strengthen their relationship with the organisation. Conversely, when the beneficiaries were involved with the organisation in a short-term and episodic way, they wanted to evaluate the service at the end of their involvement as a way of signaling the completion of their engagement. These results indicate that not all evaluation processes suit all beneficiaries, it is not a matter of one-size-fits-all.

So, here are three important suggestions for organisations to consider before involving beneficiaries in evaluation processes:

  1. Talk to the beneficiaries first, to find out if they want to participate, what outcome they would like to see from the process, and how it could work at your organisation. All organisations are different, so talking to the beneficiaries is the first step.
  2. Co-design a beneficiary participative evaluation process that works for the beneficiaries, with the beneficiaries. Some beneficiaries may prefer to give verbal feedback, some may prefer to write it down, some might like to provide an evaluation through storytelling or creating visual displays. There are many ways to involve beneficiaries.
  3. Consider the way beneficiaries engage with the organisation and their timeframe of participation and plan the evaluation process with this in mind. If there are multiple timeframes of engagement, an organisation might need multiple ways of involving beneficiaries in evaluation.

Are beneficiaries involved in evaluation processes at your organisation? What have been the strengths and weakness of these processes? Would love to hear your thoughts, please share in the comments box below.

Thanks Kylie for this great article!

Want to hear more? Kylie has also provided a short video which gives an overview of her research.

Watch the video


Kylie Kingston
George Alexander Foundation scholarship recipient & PhD at QUT





Listen to Kylie’s  podcast which includes great tips on entering the philanthropy, nonprofit and social enterprise sector.

Thanks for reading! Did you know that ACPNS offer courses for staff, board and other volunteer professionals who work, or are entering the philanthropy, nonprofit or social enterprise sectors?

In fact, some units deal with accountability and evaluation issues, including:

GSN486 Accounting and Finance Issues for Philanthropic and Nonprofit Organisations
This unit provides an overview of the accountability of nonprofit organisations, particularly via their annual and financial reports. The unit begins with an overview of the notion of accountability and the importance of financial literacy in order to interpret annual and financial reports. These documents need to be ‘decision useful’ when communicating with a variety of organisational stakeholders. The unit then builds an understanding of how to read the various financial statements that comprise a financial report. The importance of the Australian financial reporting framework, various standards, financial ratios, are examined in order to inform accurate interpretation of financial reports. Finally, various ways of financing nonprofit organisations, are considered.

GSN484 Management for Philanthropic and Nonprofit Organisations
In the context of the multiple management challenges facing non-profit and philanthropic entities, this unit provides students with an introduction to contemporary thinking and practice in the effective and efficient management of organisations. While the focus is on non-profit management, wider management and organisational theory will be drawn on in order that proactive responses to situations, problems and dilemmas facing non-profit organisations can be developed by students.

Check out our Study with us page for more info or call to request a free course information pack. +61 7 3138 1020. Please get in touch, this could be your best career move yet!

Read more of the Developing Your Organisation series

Amendments to the Incorporated Associations Act: What it means for YOUR nonprofit by Emeritus Professor Myles McGregor-Lowndes

Using empathy to engage with donors and improve your fundraising by Dr Ruth Knight

Three Ways Nonprofit Boards Can Improve Its Team by Dr Ruth Knight

Three Key Questions to Ask Before Starting a Social Enterprise by Dr Craig Furneaux

How leaders can help their team become resilient when stress and change are the norm by Dr Ruth Knight

Three questions nonprofits should be asking themselves in 2019 by Glenn Poole

Four ways to promote financial sustainability for your nonprofit by Dr Mike Booth

Three Great Resources Grantseekers and Fundraisers Should be Tapping Into by Eleni Gill


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