Saving the moral capital of NGOs: identifying one-sided and many-sided social dilemmas in NGO accountability

Stefan Hielscher , Jan Winkin, Angela Crack, Ingo Pies

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The literature on nonprofit management has embraced the concept of “accountability” to target urgent challenges related to NGO probity and integrity, and the literature witnessed attempts to use rational-choice-based governance approaches to solve them. Though existing principal-agent frameworks provide important insights, they are limited to the analysis of financial relationships between NGOs and donors. We contribute to the literature in developing a comprehensive rational-choice-based governance approach to analyze all stakeholder relationships of NGOs. Applying the research program of ordonomics, we unpack two fundamental interaction problems: (a) the “stakeholder dilemma” between the NGO and a single accountability holder as a one-sided social dilemma and (b) the “competition dilemma” among rival NGOs as many-sided social dilemma. We show that improving NGO accountability in relation to ‘intended’ beneficiaries, peer organizations and the general public also requires identifying the underlying governance problem as a competition dilemma focusing on collective self-regulation as a solution.
Original languageEnglish
JournalVOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations
Early online date12 Jan 2017
Publication statusEarly online - 12 Jan 2017


  • NGO accountability
  • Social dilemma analysis
  • Advocacy
  • Governance
  • Ordonomics


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