Principles, Practices, and Standards that Reflect Ethical and Accountable Conduct

What practices reflect ethical and accountable nonprofits?

While there is no single definition of a “best practices” for each and every situation, or for every nonprofit organization, there are well-recognized legal, ethical, and accountability practices that govern the activities of charitable nonprofits. (Legal obligations vary state by state.) Many State Associations of nonprofits promote such practices - whether described as "guidelines," "principles,"  or "standards" - to encourage legal, ethical, accountable, and transparent practices. Recognizing and adopting these practices not only benefits individual charitable nonprofits, but also donors, and ultimately the individuals and communities that charitable nonprofits serve. 

Why is it important for nonprofits to be familiar with state-specific accountability practices?

Even if your nonprofit is not required by law (or an accreditating body) to adopt particular standards of conduct, you may decide to aspire to practices that will help your nonprofit operate transparently, prudently, and ethically (as well as in accordance to applicable laws). Many nonprofits find that having a benchmark to guide their own practices is helpful. Grantmakers and the donating public may also look to state specific accountability practices as guideposts for identifying well-run and effective nonprofits.

The resources that are variously referred to as "guidelines," "principles," and "Standards for Excellence®" linked below are examples of how various State Associations of nonprofits have identified and recorded the accountability practices by which nonprofits in their state should operate. Many State Associations also provide interactive online assessments, in-person educational programs, and even certification programs to help raise awareness among board and staff members about accountability practices. 

The National Council of Nonprofits encourages you to explore the impressive resources offered by the State Associations listed below, and to raise awareness about these resources among your nonprofit's staff and board members. We hope that principles that reflect accountability and transparency, prudent fiduciary oversight, legal, ethical, and responsible fundraising, and effective governance will be reinforced through sound practices at every charitable nonprofit. Being aware of the accountability resources that are available for charitable nonprofits in your state is the first step:

State Specific Resources


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.