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