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Do Nonprofit Accreditation Programs Increase Agency Infrastructure?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Donta Council
September 13, 2016

With the increasing amount of nonprofit organizations being created, these agencies are constantly challenged with the burden of keeping the doors open with decreases in funding. Considering technology advances, service demands, change in demographics, etc., it is critical that board members, staff and volunteers be strategic in fundraising and long-term sustainability. Stakeholders are holding these agencies to be more accountable, transparent with their funding and deliver result-oriented outcomes with their investment.

With a generation that is increasingly concerned with the social ills of society, individuals are seeking nonprofits to be the solutions to these issues. Simply put by Hackler and Saxton, the current environment is one of “heightened scrutiny, greater demands, fewer resources and increased competition.” The elevating number of nonprofits and scarcity of funding warrants the need for more accountability and transparency in the nonprofit sector.

Public trust and public opinion are two elements in which funders, donors and community participants consider when investing into an agency. From a donor or volunteer perspective, where is my time and money going? Nonprofit agencies are expected to operate with proper ethics, accountability and leadership just as the private sector. This uniform type of standard offers sector-wide and public validity with organizations that reach accreditation or are certified under a code of standards.

The Standards for Excellence Institute® is project of Maryland Nonprofits. This project seeks to holistically vet, “certify” or “accredit” agencies that have met a code of standards comprised of best practices in the nonprofit sector. These standards are divided into six principles with over 60 benchmarks that agencies must meet to become certified. These 6 principles are:

  1. Mission Strategy and Evaluation
  2. Leadership: Board, Staff and Evaluation
  3. Legal Compliance and Ethics
  4. Finance and Operations
  5. Resource Development
  6. Public Affairs

Supported by a knowledgeable staff and thoroughly vetted reviewers, agencies that apply for this accreditation must undergo a series of peer reviewed committees that will ensure these agencies are meeting the highest of accountability and ethical standards that both nonprofit practitioners and academic researchers have compiled to be the best and most current practices.

Why are accreditation programs important? These accreditation programs enhance organizational performance, programmatic measurement and governance practices for agencies that which to essentially seek a “good housekeeping seal” for their donors, prospective donors and stakeholders. Volunteers, board members or funders typically do not have the time to search an agency’s financial information nor get to know their staff to build trust amongst the whole organization. Accreditation programs, such as the Standards for Excellence Institute®, work to assist agency’s and their stakeholders in ensuring ethical and accountable practices are implemented. Increased public trust is an element of social capital that agencies must capitalize on to gain success.

Before submitting an application for these types of programs, agencies typically attend a series of training workshops or clinics that introduce them to the code set by the Institute, their state’s nonprofit association or local foundation. Throughout the application process, they are able to learn about best practices, create policies and procedures that integrate ethical and accountable practices in their organization and implement best practices as a positive learning experience.

What does all of this mean? Research as shown that agencies that complete this process have shown an average of a 12 percent increase in an agency’s operating budget 2012. As agencies are competing for resources, they must find ways in which their organization is unique when seeking funding for their agency. Accreditation processes enhance validation to organizational worthiness and trust, and attract donors and funders that will invest into the infrastructure of their respective agencies.


Author: Donta Council, MPA is a doctoral student at Old Dominion University. Email: [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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