Impact of the global pandemic on online accountability practices in INGOs

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Purpose – Despite increasing public attention and media coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic, little research was conducted on how the crisis affected the accountability practices the not-for-profit sector. This study focusses international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) that operate in emerging economies worldwide but are registered in England and Wales and examines how their online accountability practices changed after the Covid-19 pandemic. The purpose of this paper is to address these issues. Design/methodology/approach – The authors use the theoretical lens of the situational crisis communication theory (SCCT) and a contingency approach to not-for-profit governance in order to assess how accountability practices have been shaped by the response given by INGOs in order to preserve their reputation which is argued to be damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. They use Dumont’s (2013) nonprofit virtual accountability index (NPVAI) for statistical analysis. They examine whether the five dimensions of the NPVAI have changed significantly as a policy of response to the Covid-19 pandemic. They also examined the documents used to disclose information on performance, governance and mission to understand if their content was affected by the pandemic.
Findings – The authors found two of the NPVAI dimensions: accessibility and engagement to be statistically different compared to before the pandemic. They also examined the documents used to disclose information on performance, governance and mission in order to understand if their content were affected by the pandemic. Their findings suggest that INGOs focussed on keeping their donors’ attention and their fund flow rather than informing how they performed and how their governance has changed as a result of the pandemic. No statistically significant change was found regarding the dimensions of performance, governance and mission. Research limitations/implications – INGOs which focus on humanitarian relief and crises management mainly in emerging economies were also affected by the pandemic. However little attention has been given to how accountability was being shaped by the Covid-19 pandemic. An analysis of how not-for-profit sector accountability practices were affected by the pandemic is, therefore, needed. Due to the nature of the pandemic online accountability practices is an area where research could focus on, until now few studies have been conducted on online accountability. The study contributes methodologically by assessing the applicability of the NPVAI for comparisons across different time periods rather than across different types of organisation at a specific point in time. The authors conclude that the NPVAI must be supplemented by some analysis of the content of key online documents and other material.
Practical implications – The authors’ findings provide important implications for crisis management and its effect on accountability practices in INGOs that operate in emerging economies and the not-for-profit sector in general. The findings suggest that the crisis led to only limited changes in mission and governance as changes in these dimensions tend to occur over the long term. Although we expected the pandemic to lead to more performance information being released, this did not happen. The enhancement of online accountability practice in the engagement and accessibility dimensions shows that INGOs focussed more on maintaining their fund flow rather than on actions to target the pandemic. This is especially apparent as regardless of size the donation and fundraising links have increased throughout the pandemic. Overall, the study provides important findings specific to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on online accountability practices in the not-for-profit sector. The study’s empirical contribution is to assess how not-for-profit organisations shape their online accountability practices to preserve their reputation and legitimacy.
Social implications – The authors have expanded the discussion of the paper’s contribution to theory, methodology and knowledge about online accountability and crisis management in the conclusion section of the paper. They found that INGOs have reacted to the pandemic by becoming more anxious about their ability to generate funds, and content analysis showed that there was little additional information about how INGOs’ performance had been affected by the pandemic, which suggests that INGOs need to pay more attention to how they manage accountability in times of crisis.
Originality/value – The authors construct a conceptual framework using theories that have the potential to explain how external factors such as the Covid-19 pandemic can affect online accountability practices. Their paper also responds to the call for studies of the effectiveness of various accountability mechanisms in NGOs (Unerman and O’ Dwyer, 2006). Unlike previous studies they did not compare various sectors at a single point in time, but rather they assessed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the reaction of INGOs by comparing online disclosures across time. This is a novel use of Dumont’s NPVAI and therefore provides an important contribution to the literature.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Accounting in Emerging Economies
Early online date7 Mar 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Mar 2023

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