According to a public opinion survey done by Ignite Lab Inc, on behalf of Imagine Canada, the main concern of donors has remained a desire for trust, based on transparency and operational accountability. Nearly three-quarters of Canadians say they would feel a lot more confident donating to a charity accredited by an independent body. As we enter the “Giving Season”, where upwards of 40% of donations are made in a given year, the desire to demonstrate trustworthiness is amplified, as with our Guide to Giving.
As part of their efforts to ensure that their organizations are operating at the optimum level of professionalism, many are joining the growing number of organizations becoming accredited through Imagine Canada’s Standards Program. The Standards Program is a Canada-wide set of shared standards for charities and nonprofits designed to strengthen practices in five fundamental areas: board governance; financial accountability and transparency; fundraising; staff management; and volunteer involvement. The goals of the Program are to increase organizational transparency in these areas and to strengthen public confidence in individual organizations and the sector as a whole.
This fall, nine more organizations became accredited and one organization renewed for another five-year commitment, reaching a total of 231 organizations that have completed their accreditation journey. Among them are the newly accredited Habitat for Humanity Canada and previously accredited The MATCH International Women’s Fund. In speaking with these organizations about the process of becoming accredited, several key insights emerged.
1. Being the best we can be, from the inside out
At Habitat for Humanity Canada, Alanna Salpeter, Director, Governance & Strategic Development explains that their motivation for becoming accredited was to reflect their mission and their commitment to the families they serve: “Transparency and accountability are very important to us, and this was a way of demonstrating that in a more official capacity.” As well, it provides an opportunity to do an organizational inventory, with the support of industry peers. “A third party review is always beneficial. If there was anything we were missing, we would find out what we could improve. It provides checks and balances, making sure our house is in order, and knowing it from top to bottom.”
At The MATCH International Women’s Fund, the accreditation process also provided an opportunity for organizational reflection. “There were so many pieces to the process. It wasn’t simply a matter of finding the right information to share with the reviewers, but asking ourselves some hard questions, deciding what kind of an organization we wanted to be,” explains Erin Edwards, Communications. What’s more, they made sure that they complied with the Standards in a way that showcased their values: “We think a lot about how to do things differently, how to be innovative, and how our feminist values weave throughout our work, from our policies to our website. We aim to be the best we can be from the inside out.” The standards are divided into three levels to recognize the diversity of the sector. Organizations approach the process in a way that reflects their own values and operational context - it’s not a cookie-cutter approach.
2. Your organization needs to be “all in”
Like any major undertaking, having senior leadership onboard is the key to success. Habitat for Humanity Canada found this to be especially true within their federated structure. Achieving accreditation for the national office, they are now encouraging their local member Habitat organizations to come on board. “The main drive for accreditation came from senior leadership. Some of them, having done the process before at other organizations, recognized the value,” Alanna informs us. “The reason that we didn’t have a huge challenge moving forward on this was having buy-in and support from our senior leadership - staff, senior leaders, board members.” With the work required, that buy-in and support is crucial. “The process touches every level of the organization and you need to bring everyone together. Keep them informed, aware and considering it a priority.” While Habitat Canada’s previous COO was their first internal champion, Alanna has played a significant role, training and coaching their local member organizations.
In mid-2013, YMCA Canada was the first national federation to undertake accreditation through the Standards Program. To date, 17 YMCA organizations have been accredited, including two more earning accreditation this round (Lethbridge and Oakville). The Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division (CMHA BC) and the majority of its Branches also chose to pursue accreditation, with three more in today’s announcement (Cowichan Valley, Port Alberni, Shuswap/Revelstoke).
On the other end of the spectrum, The MATCH International Women’s Fund operates as a start-up organization. Remaining small and nimble, with their main office in Ottawa, they work with individuals on grassroots projects around the world. Erin relates how “we knew it was important to have all of these components. And now, to know that we have accreditation behind us, we are on the leading edge.”
An avid proponent of elevating our excellence as a sector, Bruce MacDonald, President and CEO of Imagine Canada, underlines that no matter the size of organization, you’ve got to be all in. “It’s no small feat for an organization to earn Standards Program accreditation. It’s a rigorous, peer-reviewed process that is meant to build public trust and confidence in the charitable sector,” says Bruce. “The 231 accredited to date reflect a broad spectrum of organizations in size, scope and geography. Each one takes accountability and operational transparency very seriously. We’re glad to have them on board.”
3. The Trustmark makes you stand out
After meeting all of the requirements of accreditation, an organization is awarded the Standards Program Trustmark. It is a great source of pride for an organization. “Our board was quite excited to see that we received accreditation,” says Erin. “We were able to publish it on our Annual Report.” And while there are many organizations in Canada doing incredible work, “this will help us stand out. It proves that we have things in order and are being the best we can be. As a funder, building the capacity of others, it’s useful to know that we’re walking the talk.”
The Trustmark also signals to donors that that they can have peace of mind when donating. “We’re lucky to have great donors who are loyal and supportive. We want to show them that their investment is well spent,” asserts Erin. At Habitat for Humanity Canada, Alanna echoes this sentiment. “It’s an achievement for the whole organization, something that we share and are proud of. We can’t wait to let our donors and partners know.”
While not a simple process, the increasing demand by donors, partners and the next generation nonprofit workforce for transparency and accountability make accreditation a desirable goal. As Habitat for Humanity Canada and The MATCH International Women’s Fund attest, making the commitment to demonstrate your excellence is a journey worth taking. Is your organization ready to go “all in”?
Learn more about the Standards Program community and accreditation process.
When making a donation, see our Guide to Giving.