Principles and Practices
While there is no single definition of a “best practices” for each and every nonprofit organization, there are well-recognized legal, ethical, and accountability practices that are expected of well-run and accountable charitable nonprofits. Specific legal obligations vary state by state, but many state associations of nonprofits promote “best practices” - whether described as "guiding practices," "principles and practices," or "standards" - to encourage legal, ethical, accountable, and transparent practices by all charitable nonprofits and boards of directors. Recognizing and adopting these practices not only benefits individual charitable nonprofits, but also donors, and ultimately the individuals and communities that charitable nonprofits serve. We encourage you to become familiar with the recommended ethical practices in your state.
State Specific Practices
Even if your nonprofit is not required by law (or an accrediting 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 nonprofits’ 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 "Guiding Principles," "Principles and Practices," and "Standards for Excellence®" linked below, are examples of how various state associations of nonprofits have identified and recorded the accountability practices for nonprofits in their states. 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 listed below, and to raise awareness about these resources among your nonprofit's staff and board members. We hope that practices reflecting 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:
- Alabama | Standards for Excellence®
- Arkansas | The Arkansas Diamond Standards™
- Colorado | Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence in Colorado
- Connecticut | Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence in Connecticut
- Delaware | Standards for Excellence®
- Illinois | Illinois Nonprofit Principles and Best Practices
- Iowa | Iowa Principles and Practices for Charitable Nonprofit Excellence
- Kentucky | Principles & Practices for Nonprofit Excellence in Kentucky
- Maine | Guiding Principles & Practices for Nonprofit Excellence in Maine
- Maryland | Standards for Excellence®
- Michigan | Principles and Practices Guide for Nonprofit Excellence in Michigan
- Minnesota | Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence
- Mississippi | Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Management Excellence
- Montana | Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence in Montana
- Nebraska | Guidelines & Principles for Nonprofit Excellence
- North Carolina | Principles & Practices for Nonprofit Excellence
- Oklahoma | Standards for Excellence®
- Oregon | Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice
- Pennsylvania | Standards for Excellence®
- South Carolina | Guiding Principles and Best Practices
- Utah | Standards of Ethics
- Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice for by any nonprofit or philanthropic organization as a guide for strengthening effectiveness and accountability (Panel on the Nonprofit Sector convened by Independent Sector).
- 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.