The Intersection of Public Policy and National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations
Community foundation leaders take seriously their role and commitment to serve and support their communities. To demonstrate this to lawmakers and the people in their communities, they came together, over ten years ago in the late 1990s, to create a peer-driven, accreditation program. Executed with rigor and expertise, this program was designed to demonstrate the willingness of community foundations to go above and beyond what the law requires to ensure accountability and compliance with legal requirements and to avoid legislation that would require further regulation and oversight by a body that had difficulty distinguishing the important nuances of community foundation work.
The National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations® accreditation program fosters excellence in community philanthropy in two ways.
- It establishes strict standards for this subset of organization to adhere to in order to be recognized as nationally accredited, operationally sound community foundations.
- It guides community foundation staff and boards through the process of achieving operational excellence by undergoing a rigorous review of internal documents, policies, and operations by experienced peer and legal reviewers who are vetted and trained to ensure the highest quality review.
The Council believes the National Standards program is a critically important tool available to us in promoting a favorable legislative and regulatory environment for philanthropy.
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.
With National Standards as a base, community foundations establish high levels of operational integrity—mitigating the risk for mistakes or unintentional wrongdoing that would result in consequences of noncompliance with IRS requirements.
Though uncommon, the National Standards program has dealt with reports of accredited community foundations not complying with these standards. The program takes these investigations of noncompliance very seriously, with the intent of working to resolve any issues and restore accreditation status. However, in very rare instances, accreditation status has been revoked due to multiple failed attempts to resolve the noncompliance issue.
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.
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.