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Standards for Excellence | June 8, 2021

Fostering Resilience Through the Standards for Excellence®

According to the National Council of Nonprofits, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned many nonprofit conversations from sustainability to survivability.  Different estimates forecast that up to a third of nonprofit organizations may not survive the financial crisis and economic downturn caused by the pandemic.  Now, more than ever, it is important for nonprofit organizations to remain focused on their mission and follow best practices to ensure their long-term sustainability.

If I have learned anything from the six years that I have had the honor of serving on the National Standards for Excellence Council, the body that oversees The Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector its accreditation process and training, I have learned that The Standards for Excellence continues to provide the most effective roadmap to ensure nonprofit resilience, survivability and sustainability. As we continue to navigate through an uncertain future, I encourage nonprofit leaders to:

  1. Evaluate your current practices. The Standards for Excellence Organizational Assessment and Planning tool provides an excellent snapshot of your strengths and weaknesses and can help you identify areas where you can improve your knowledge and application of best practices. It is also a useful tool to track your progress as you make improvements.
  2. Commit to following The Standards.It is the journey to apply the Standards for Excellence that offers the best opportunity for learning, growth and resilience. If your organization is struggling, look to the Standards for Excellence for sustainability and collaboration. They will guide you in the right direction.
  3. Eat the elephant “one bite at a time.” While pursuing accreditation or Standards Basics may seem daunting, let what appears like the “enormity of the task” dissuade you from trying.  Focus on one component of the Standards for Excellence code at a time and give yourself a realistic schedule to accomplish it.  You will find that you can make significant progress reasonably quickly if you commit to doing one thing at a time by a deadline.
  4. Don’t strive for perfection. Your nonprofit does not have to be perfect in every way to achieve accreditation or Standards Basics. In fact, “perfect can be the enemy of good” if you spend a lot of time and energy attempting to perfectly implement every standard.  The staff and peer review processes often provide useful feedback, so there is value in applying when you are “close,” even if you don’t feel that you have everything in place perfectly.
  5. Seek help from a Standards for Excellence Licensed Consultant.This can provide a great “value add” to your organization, especially with components of the Standards you have never done before. An experienced consultant can educate your board and help you establish a new process following The Standards saving time and decreasing the frustration of doing it yourself when lacking experience.
  6. Engage with the Standards for Excellence that fits with your needs: If you organization is not yet ready to take on the accreditation or Standards Basics process, there are plenty of ways to utilize the Standards for Excellence resources including but not limited downloading the 30 Educational Resource Packets (free to PANO members, small fee for others), attending training and using any of the supports that are on our website. In recent years, close to 5,000 staff and board benefited from some interaction with the Standards for Excellence program these per year.

For more information about The Standards for Excellence®, engaging a Licensed Consultant, or to learn about applying to earn the Seal of Excellence so that your organization can strengthen its resilience, sustainability and survivability, visit the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations website.

By Debra A. Thompson | April 22, 2021| PANO

About the Author: Debra A. Thompson

Debra Thompson is President of Strategy Solutions, Inc. In this role, she serves as project manager and collaborator, enabling clients to “take it to the next level” and achieve their vision and goals. She also helps nonprofits implement best practices in governance and management.

With advanced training in Strategic Planning, Quantitative and Qualitative Market Research, Total Quality Management, Leadership Development, Systems Thinking & Facilitation (through affiliates of MIT), Deb is a licensed consultant, trainer and peer reviewer for the National and Pennsylvania Standards for Excellence®: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector. She was appointed to the National Standards for Excellence® Council in December 2015.


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