Literature has widely studied the financial accountability pressures on NGOs but rarely analysed how NGOs respond to them. This paper studies one large humanitarian NGO to address this question. It investigates the NGO's responses to understand the extent to which NGOs are able to regain control over their own work and turn the frames of evaluation and accountability to their own advantage.
This article draws on a case study of one of the largest French humanitarian NGOs. Interviews and observation (both participant and non-participant) were conducted in the financial department of the NGO. These data are supplemented with field-level contextual interviews.
In the NGO studied, institutional pressure is largely mediated by compliance audits. The paper thus traces the consequences of compliance audits for the NGO's central finance teams and describes how they respond. The findings detail three responses to evaluation. First, to respond to the burden of evaluation, the organisation makes itself auditable and develops preparedness. Second, to respond to the anxiety of evaluation, the organisation engages in a process of purification and succumbs to the allure of the single figure. Third, building on its newly acquired auditability and purity, the organisation performs itself as a “corporatised NGO”. Together, these three responses constitute the NGO as an “entrepreneur” competing for eligibility, and financial literacy and managerialism become crucial to respond to pressure from institutional funders.
This paper extends the understanding of organisational responses to evaluation. The authors show the influence of evaluation systems on NGOs, but also how NGOs can react to regain control over their work and turn the frames of evaluation and accountability to their own advantage. However, despite several decades of calls for broader conceptions of NGO accountability, the case NGO prefers to promote a very narrow view of its performance, based solely on accounting compliance. It takes some pride in its ability to comply with funders' and auditors' demands. Turning a simple matter of compliance into a display of good performance, it builds a strategy and competitive advantage on its ability to respond competently to evaluation.
The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their feedback. The helpful comments and suggestions of Jeffrey Unerman, Susan O'Leary and Lambert Jerman are gratefully acknowledged. Feedback from participants and discussants of the Alternative Accounts Conference (2016; 2019), AFC conference (2019), TBS workshop (2019) and Management Accounting as Social and Organizational Practice Workshop (2019) helped to develop earlier versions of the paper.
Cazenave, B. and Morales, J. (2021), "NGO responses to financial evaluation: auditability, purification and performance", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 34 No. 4, pp. 731-756. https://doi.org/10.1108/AAAJ-01-2020-4397
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