With competition from other charitable options and heightened scrutiny of charities in the media, National Standards set our field—and your community foundation—apart and underscore your commitment to integrity, effectiveness and transparency.
In 2000, a group of respected community foundation practitioners collaborated with the Council on Foundations to establish National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations™. National Standards assist community foundations in instituting legal, ethical and effective operating practices that show a foundation’s transparency and financial responsibility. Community foundation accreditation is reconfirmed every five years.
Standards are designed to:
- Demonstrate community foundations’ transparency and financial responsibility
- Guide sound policies and accountable practices
- Distinguish community foundations from other philanthropic vehicles
- Build the capacity of community foundations to carry out their missions
- Assist the field with self-regulation in a manner viewed positively by the Internal Revenue Service
41 National Standards address six key areas of community foundation operations:
- Mission, Structure and Governance, including standards defining board accountability, compensation, independence, fiduciary responsibility and representation of the community.
- Resource Development, including parameters for administration of funds, disclosures to donors and commitment to building long-term resources for varied community issues and causes.
- Stewardship and Accountability, covering prudent investment and management of funds, transparent record-keeping, use of funds for their intended purpose, annual audits and public availability of financial information, including standards related to due diligence and community responsiveness.
- Grantmaking and Community Leadership, including standards related to broad and open grantmaking programs, due diligence and responsiveness to changing community needs.
- Donor Relations, encompassing guidelines for informing, educating and involving donors in responding to community needs.
- Communications, including openness to public scrutiny and frequent communication about activities and finances.
Being an accredited community foundation provides benefits including:
- Authorization to use the National Standards Seal indicating compliance with the most rigorous standards in philanthropy.
- National Standards seal featured on accredited community foundations’GuideStar listings.
- Access to the updated National Standards Marketing and Communications Toolkit containing news releases, talking points, ads, web content, and letters to donors and advisers—all designed to share the value of National Standards and inform the public of this noteworthy achievement.
- Unlimited access to the National Standards website, which is updated frequently with tools and resources for achieving and maintaining accreditation.
- Bonus points when applying for the HUD Secretary’s Award for Public-Private Partnerships
- Eligibility for Endow Iowa, a state tax incentive program for National Standards accredited community foundations in Iowa.
- Access to the Centennial Portfolio announced by Vikki Spruill at the Community Foundations’ Conference. A toolkit that highlights 100 years of community foundations’ work with suggestions for customizing messaging for your community foundation. This resource is a result of collaboration among the Council on Foundations, the Council on Michigan Foundations, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
Thanks to hundreds of community foundations that are leading the way toward greater accountability and transparency, more than two-thirds of the field has been accredited and is displaying the official National Standards Seal that denotes the achievement.
Additional information about National Standards can be found online at www.cfstandards.org.
Lara Kalwinski is Policy & Strategy Associate, Director of National Standards at the Council on Foundations.