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Promoting Excellence and Trust in the Nonprofit Sector
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52 Tips in 52 Weeks Blog: Building Public Trust

Like you, we follow the headlines. Of course, the headlines have been dominated the last few months with news and updates about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on our communities, country and world. We’ve been keeping up with the infection rates, the numbers of deaths and recoveries, and the situations related to stay-at-home orders and news on re-opening. Most recently, we’ve been overwhelmed and profoundly saddened by the headlines about systemic racism, life-threatening situations faced by people of color, and the demands for justice and equity.

At the Standards for Excellence Institute, as we work to be nonprofit standard-bearers, we also follow headlines on trust and confidence in the nonprofit sector. Our mission is to promote the highest standards of ethics and accountability in nonprofit governance, management and operations, and to facilitate adherence to those standards by all nonprofit organizations. We have two overarching goals—strengthening nonprofits and enhancing the public’s trust in the nonprofit sector. We celebrate when we learn that public trust is on the upswing and we are disheartened when the public’s trust and confidence in the nonprofit sector wanes. We’ve seen our fair share of both since the inception of the Standards for Excellence program in 1998.

Earlier this month, we were thrilled to read one particular set of headlines in the Chronicle of Philanthropy “Trust in Nonprofits Rises…” On June 4, 2020, Chronicle reporter Michael Theis penned an article outlining the results of a May 2020 poll of Americans by Luth Research, and the Nonprofit Institute at the University of San Diego’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences [1] that found “70 percent of Americans said they either had a ‘fair amount’ or a ‘great deal’ of confidence in the nonprofit response to the pandemic.” The confidence in state and local government and federal government were much less positive and fell to 65% and 44% respectively.

To many in the sector, these confidence numbers are probably not a complete surprise. It seems that wherever you look, you can see nonprofits stepping up to meet the needs of community members and neighbors facing needs and challenges in the midst of the pandemic. They are offering medical care, educational services, arts and culture, and food and basic human needs. They are speaking out for equal justice and equity, and calling for an end to racism. The needs are great and our colleagues in the nonprofit sector are stepping up in heroic ways every day. This is how we earn the public’s trust. We bring our very best to our communities as we deliver on our many missions. We work to improve the lives of our neighbors in hundreds of ways. We seek to strengthen organizations and networks for greater quality of life and equity. That is our cause, and our promise, and we ask you for your trust.

The Standards for Excellence Institute has created a series of educational resource packets to help nonprofits strengthen the ways that they manage and govern.  The Institutes’ collection, a full series of all packets - including sample policies, tools and model procedures to help nonprofits achieve best practices in their governance and management - can be accessed by contacting a licensed Standards for Excellence replication partner, one of the over 150 Standards for Excellence Licensed Consultants, or by becoming a member of the Standards for Excellence Institute.

We share our sincere wishes for your continued good health and patience as we all navigate these challenging and uncertain times.

[1] 350 Americans were survey as part of this sample in the Luth Research/University of San Diego School of Leadership and Education Sciences study and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

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About the Author: Amy Coates Madsen

Amy Coates Madsen is the Director of the Standards for Excellence Institute, a national initiative to promote the highest standards of ethics and accountability in nonprofit governance, management, and operations, and to facilitate adherence to standards by all organizations. The Standards for Excellence Institute is a program of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations where Amy has served for more than twenty-two years. Amy is responsible for coordinating all aspects of the association’s comprehensive ethics and accountability program and efforts to replicate the program nationally. She serves as a frequent trainer and writer in the areas of board conduct, program evaluation, program replication, fundraising ethics, and nonprofit management. She has taught courses on nonprofit ethics and accountability at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies Certificate Program on Nonprofit Management. She has held positions at the Trenton lobbying firm of the Princeton Public Affairs Group, and the Public Policy Liaison Unit at the world headquarters of Catholic Relief Services. Amy received her Master of Arts in Policy Studies degree from the Johns Hopkins University – Institute for Policy Studies in Baltimore, Maryland; and her Bachelors degree from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. Amy is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Amy serves on the Internal Revenue Service Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities (ACT). Amy is a former member of the Disaster Action Team of the Central Maryland Chapter of the American Red Cross and is qualified to provide disaster preparedness training to children and adults. She has also served as the former President of Central Maryland CAN TOO and was a member of the Board of Trustees of the largest United Methodist Church in Baltimore City. She serves on the board of her children’s preschool PTA and is a volunteer with the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. Amy is currently leading an effort to establish an endowment for the Virginia Tech University Honors Program.