There is no single standard of “best practices” for ethics and accountability that applies to each and every nonprofit organization. However, there are well-recognized principles for ethical and accountable practices in many states that are promoted by the state association of nonprofits in their state. Having recognized principles for accountability not only benefits charitable nonprofits, board members, and donors by providing clear guidance, but ultimately benefits the communities charitable nonprofits serve.
Even if your nonprofit is not required by law to adopt any particular standard of conduct, you may decide to aspire to practices that will will help your charitable nonprofit operate transparently, prudently, and ethically (as well as in accordance to applicable laws). Many nonprofits find that having a benchmark to measure their own practices is helpful. The principles of practice and Standards for Excellence® linked below are examples of how State Associations of nonprofits have identified and recorded the principles by which nonprofits in their state should operate (most incorporate state-specific legal requirements). Many State Associations also provide training and certification programs to help raise awareness among board and staff members about accountability practices as well as prudent operations for charitable nonprofits in their states.
The National Council of Nonprofits encourages you to explore the accountability principles promoted by the state associations listed below, and to raise awareness about these principles among your nonprofit's board members so that collectively, as a sector, the principles of accountability and transparency, strong financial oversight, responsible fundraising, and legal and effective governance will be reinforced through sound practices at every charitable nonprofit. Grantmakers and the donating public may also look to principles of practice as guideposts for identifying well-run and effective nonprofits.
In addition to the work of the state assocations, in 2007 the Panel on the Nonprofit Sector (convened by Independent Sector) introduced 33 Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice for use on a national level by any nonprofit or philanthropic organization as a guide for strengthening effectiveness and accountability. The Reference Edition of the Principles provides background on the legal guidance relied on to craft the 33 Principles of Good Governance and Ethical Practice with comparisons to other standards and systems of self-regulation in the nonprofit sector.
Download an overview of what is included in the Standards for Excellence®
Read about adopting a code of ethics or statement of values for your nonprofit.
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