National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations™

The Council on Foundations takes a leadership role in shaping community foundations' self-regulation by promoting The National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations™.

What are National Standards?

The National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations™ (National Standards) is an accreditation program created by community foundations for community foundations. They are peer-driven, voluntary, and self-regulatory.

National Standards accreditation represents operational effectiveness to foster excellence in community philanthropy. We do this in two ways. First, we create standards for operationally and legally sound community foundations. Second, we lead community foundation staff and boards through the process of achieving operational excellence. With confidence in their operations, community foundations can innovate and take risks necessary to solve complex problems.

Community foundations submit documentation to confirm they meet The National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations™. This documentation is peer-reviewed. Community Foundations reconfirm their accreditation annually. For more information about the program, please visit

Why should your community foundation participate in National Standards?

  • Evidence of Excellence: The dollars set aside for charity are limited and precious. The institutions that donors choose to support must be credible and trustworthy. As a symbol of excellence and rigor, the National Standards Seal helps philanthropists and their professional advisers recognize and choose community foundations as a sound place to give and make a difference.
  • Accountability: Community foundations of all sizes use National Standards as a roadmap to establish legal, ethical, effective practices that withstand the scrutiny of donors, government and media. Over time, National Standards have become an important resource for developing new and emerging community foundations.
  • Impact: National Standards set consistent expectations among community foundation boards and practitioners, helping them focus and make effective use of time and talent. They also provide a framework for documenting, communicating and providing training and technical assistance to advance best practices.
  • Distinction: Community foundations use National Standards to distinguish themselves from entities that provide similar services. When community foundations work together regionally or nationally to build awareness of their unique value, standards reduce the risk of doing so by ensuring all participants have met benchmarks for quality in operations and service.

Is there support for your foundation as you prepare our application?

  • Sample Documents: The Council on Foundations legal team provides high quality, vetted sample policies and procedures specifically tailored to community foundations.
  • Helpful Hints: Each sample document is accompanied by a page of helpful hints to help you think through what your policies and procedures should include and why.
  • E-learning: For webinars or program updates, you can check out the National Standards home page, specifically the News and Events section.

How can you promote your community foundation's accreditation?

  • Share your National Standards accreditation as an incentive to attract serious board members. Remind them that National Standards accreditation is training for board and staff and provides evidence that your foundation works to be stable and legally sound.
  • Check to find out if your state provides incentives to accredited community foundations through tax credits and eligibility for managing state resources. See more about Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, and California.
  • Include the National Standards Seal on your website and marketing materials to indicate compliance with the most rigorous standards in philanthropy.
  • Use the National Standards Marketing and Communications Toolkit to share the value of your foundation's accreditation, including a press release and talking points.
  • Compete for the HUD Secretary’s Award for Public-Private Partnerships and receive bonus points for accreditation.

How is the Council connected to National Standards?

For twenty years, the idea of community foundations self-regulating their activities has been an important topic in the philanthropic community. The National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations™ were adopted in 2000 by the Council on Foundations. The formal confirmation of compliance process began in 2005 with community foundations declaring their intent to comply. In 2009, the Council’s board approved the governing documents of the Community Foundations National Standards Board, a Type I supporting organization of the Council on Foundations. The CFNSB’s mission is to carry out and advance The National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations™ accreditation process by ensuring the integrity of the process and building the value of confirmation of compliance for the community foundation field and greater community.

How can the National Standards team help you?

Feel free to reach out to the National Standards team with any questions or concerns you may have about the National Standards process or the benefits of becoming accredited by emailing