What does “Social Accountability” really mean?

This Guest Point of View is courtesy of Joe Anderson, President, ABHOW Foundation; President, Seniority, Inc.; Chairman, SQLC Charitable Foundation. Mr. Anderson is a nationally-recognized leader in senior living marketing, with over 40 years of experience in advertising, marketing and public relations. He is frequently featured as a guest speaker at senior housing meetings and conferences across the nation and is admired throughout the industry for his exemplary leadership and selflessness in philanthropic efforts. 


Social accountability. We hear that phrase a lot these days in senior living circles. Most people have the general sense that it deals with validating your role as a nonprofit organization. However, if you polled 50 senior living professionals for a working definition, I would imagine that you would get 50 answers as unique as the people you asked. There might also be a lot of guesswork mixed in with those answers.

To that point, I think it’s important that we begin to develop a clear industry consensus on this vital and increasingly visible topic. To pass muster, social accountability programs must be more than a brand strategy, they must have real “teeth” and provoke vigorous action on our part—towards verifiable metrics.

Here’s a pretty good definition of the term that I found online:

“Social Accountability is the measure of an organization’s mindfulness of  emerging social concerns and priorities of internal and external stakeholders (community residents, team members, governance, the greater market served and governmental compliance). It is reflected in the organization’s verifiable commitment to certain factors (which may or may not be tied directly to its processes) such as (1) willing compliance with employment, health and hygiene, safety, and environment laws, (2) respect for basic civil and human rights, and (3) betterment of resident life and contributions to the surrounding marketplace.” 

In recent years Congress has been increasing pressure on nonprofit organizations to prove that they are worthy of maintaining their status as a 501-c-3. This pressure has been primarily directed at hospitals, but some talk has emerged about holding retirement communities and their organizations to similar and increasingly higher standards.

Some years back the nonprofit where I work, American Baptist Homes of the West, began an effort to track the contributions that constitute social accountability. These include contributions provided both to residents inside our communities and to the greater market areas that we serve. The hopes when we started were that the monetary value of the charity provided by the enterprise would exceed the tax benefits that the organization received by its not-for-profit status.

ABHOW tracks social accountability in the following categories:

  1. Contractual allowances – Medicaid discounts provided to resident who are not able to pay private rates.
  2. Subsidized allowances – Discounts for BMR [Below Market Rates] required by certain cities, Medicare discount credits, etc.
  3. Benevolent payments – Last year our Foundation distributed over $1.5 million dollars to cover benevolence to residents who had run short of funds through no fault of their own.
  4. Free services to residents – Health screenings, added transportation, and extra meals provided.
  5. Education assistance to employees.
  6. Grants to ABHOW low-income retirement communities to enhance resident life.
  7. Volunteer hours valued in excess of $920,000.
  8. Direct contributions to other nonprofit organizations including cash, food, goods and services.

How do we rate? In 2013 ABHOW received tax benefits of nearly $8.9 million as a result of being a tax-exempt organization. During the same period, ABHOW provided more than $18.7-million in community benefits, including $14.9-million in pure charity direct contributions to residents and team members for care and services and direct contributions to others.

We strongly believe that social accountability is not just a catch phrase. It’s a responsibility for every tax-exempt organization, and one that can and should be quantified for the public. If the IRS or Senator Grassley comes to call, we’ll be pleased to open the books and demonstrate ABHOW’s social accountability. If you’re a nonprofit, can your organization say the same?

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