I am often asked, “What are the National Standards?” The National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations were designed by and for community foundations in the spirit of being accountable and transparent and for continuous self-improvement. Community foundations are in the business of seeking excellence for their communities and donors.
That’s a great elevator speech, but what does that really mean?
Since taking the position as National Standards manager at the Council on Foundations, I’ve had many conversations with folks across the country about the ways in which the Standards program benefits all of us.
Here’s how it works: Several years ago, the community foundation field identified 41 Standards that it determined community foundations must meet in order to define their operations and performance. These Standards include grantmaking and community leadership and communications, among others. A community foundation must first agree to adopt the National Standards. Once they do, they go through an accreditation process before they are deemed “compliant.”
My mind starts spinning at the thought of finance, governance or legal jargon, but a compliant community foundation is held to a set of rules that go above and beyond the tax code and state regulations. The Standards require that a community foundation is autonomous, viable and accountable to the community it serves. If you live in a community, chances are there is a Standards compliant community foundation in your area—and therefore, a real asset to you.
I like to think of a community foundation as the modern-day version of the old company town, where businesses were pretty much permanently anchored to the community and engaged in many civic activities. Out of necessity, businesses today change, merge and move, and the community foundation has emerged as a premier anchor tenant, solidly grounded in the entire community as a convener, leader, center of community philanthropy and grantmaking and, most importantly, here to stay. I like the tagline, “For Good, For Ever” that many community foundations use.
There are many aspects to the 41 Standards, which I’ll cover in upcoming blog entries, but I’ll start with one: diversity and inclusion. What does it mean to be compliant in this area?
The Standards require that a community foundation reflects the community’s diversity in Standard II.F.8. Like most people, my first thought with diversity is who’s on the board? (which is one requirement).
But, the Standards go beyond that limited scope to require that a community foundation incorporate diversity in:
I think Standards requirements such as diversity and inclusion are important to building vibrant, healthy and livable communities. To learn more about the Standards, visit www.cfstandards.org.
Diane Miller is the manager of National Standards at the Council on Foundations. This is one of several posts on National Standards for U.S. Community Foundations.