Community Foundation National Standards

Setting a High Standard

The Community Foundations National Standards accreditation seal represents a community foundation's commitment to rigorous, sector-driven best practices that exceed federal and state law requirements demonstrate accountability and excellence to communities, policymakers, and the public.

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Community Foundations National Standards Seal

Excellence in Community Philanthropy

National Standards are used by community foundations of all sizes, scopes, and areas of focus throughout the United States. They provide vital guidance on how community foundations should operate, distribute funds, and determine impact on the communities they serve.

Showcasing Accountability

Community foundations face regulation at the state and the federal level. The Community Foundations National Standards® accreditation program provides an additional layer of rigorous, sector-driven and enforced accountability. Created over a decade ago, the National Standards seal demonstrates commitment to operational excellence, and represents real results for communities everywhere.

Who Participates

More than 500 accredited community foundations in 50 states and 96% of the largest community foundations.

What do National Standards Accomplish

Charitable contributions made to support and strengthen communities are limited and precious. The National Standards seal indicates that these accredited institutions will serve as responsible stewards of these contributions as dedicated community partners and leaders.

To receive and maintain accreditation status, community foundations must meet and remain compliant with comprehensive standards around the following key areas of excellence:

Structure & Governance

Structure & Governance - Reflects the independence and integrity of the organization's board and staff in managing the foundation's operations and assets.

Resource Development

Resource Development - Ensures that the organization receives a revenue stream that represents the diversity of citizen support.


Accountability - Assures that the organization complies with accountable financial recordkeeping and reporting disciplines, and prudent investment practices.


Grantmaking - Determines that the organization responds to community needs, and uses funds only for qualified charitable purposes.

Community Engagement

Community Engagement - Assures that the organization demonstrates leadership and outreach to the community.

National Standards: How They Emerged

In the late 1990s, community foundation leaders began discussing the value of a peer-regulated standards program. The need for creating such a program grew from a desire to 1) demonstrate effectiveness and accountability to policymakers, regulators, and the public and, 2) to distinguish the unique role community foundations play in serving their communities.

The National Standards program helps demonstrate that a community foundation is well-run and results-oriented, while also delineating criteria that help define what community foundations are and do.

Program Strengths


Setting a High Standard


National Standards eligibility requires that a community foundation be in good standing with federal and state regulators, and categorized by the IRS under sections 501(c)(3), 509(a)(1), and 170(b)(1)(a)(vi) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Setting a High Standard


Since the program began, there have been over a dozen investigations for reports of noncompliance, several of which have led to revocation of accreditation status. Additionally, representatives for the National Standards program conduct periodic site visits and check-ins with accredited organizations to ensure compliance.

Setting a High Standard


The Community Foundations National Standards® accreditation process is thorough and rigorous, requiring compliance with the law and an extensive list of internal operating policies and procedures that have been scrutinized and deemed best practice by the sector.

Setting a High Standard


The Community Foundations National Standards® program is a registered trademark of the Council on Foundations. The National Standards program is administered by an independent, sector-chosen board. This board is a Type I supporting organization of the Council on Foundations.

What is a Community Foundation?

A community foundation is a tax-exempt, nonprofit, autonomous, nonsectarian philanthropic institutions supported by local citizens with long-term goals of:

  1. BUILDING permanent, component funds established by many separate donors to carry out charitable goals such as grantmaking to local nonprofits and social sector leadership
  2. SUPPORTING broad-based charitable interests and benefitting the residents of a defined geographic area
  3. SERVING in leadership roles on important community issues.

Community foundations are established for the express purpose of improving the quality of life in the communities they serve by enabling chartiable activities and socail sector problem solving. These organizations leverage the financial resources of individuals, families, and businesses to support project and initiatives led by effective nonprofits and identify solutions for persistant issues. In 2021, they gave an estimated $12.4 billion to nonprofit activities in fields that included:

Health & Human Services
health and human services


disaster relief
disaster relief

arts & education
arts & education


Angela Dethlefs-Trettin“The National Standards seal is more than a set of legal guidelines that must be met; it recognizes the commitment we have made to operational excellence. It articulates to our donors, community partners, staff and board our commitment to sound policies and accountability that better positions us to promote philanthropy, connect donors to causes they care about and provide leadership on important community issues.”

Angela Dethlefs-Trettin, Vice President of Community Investment & Initiatives, Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines

Richard Ober“I believe every community foundation in American should participate in National Standards. Our stock in trade is trust-with the communities we serve and donors who entrust us with their philanthropic capital. It is serious work and accreditation demonstrates we are serious about doing it well as a field. Policymakers and regulators respect institutions that are accountable enough to have quality accreditation programs so they don't have to doit for us.”

Richard Ober, President and CEO, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation

environment“National Standards provides a transparent validation of the high value that community foundations provide individually and collectively for our communities nationwide.”

Eric Anderson, Director of Stewardship, The Minneapolis Foundation


Connect with Council Staff

Kevin van Bronkhorst

Executive Director, National Standards