The Standards for Excellence®: History & Overview

The Standards for Excellence Institute® is a national initiative established to promote the highest standards of ethics, effectiveness, and accountability in nonprofit governance, management, and operations, and to help all nonprofit organizations meet these high benchmarks. Our program is a system of nonprofit sector self-regulation and replicated by state, regional, and national associations and support organizations.

The centerpiece of the Institute’s program is the Standards for Excellence®: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector. The Institute also publishes comprehensive educational resources and offers training to nonprofit organizations to help them strengthen their practices. Accreditation and recognition is available to organizations that submit to a thorough third-party review.

What makes the Standards for Excellence Institute unique is that we don’t just talk about accountability.  We provide nonprofits with a common sense approach to achieve the highest standards in governance and management, while at the same time staying focused on the people and communities they serve.

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.

Our Background

The Standards for Excellence Institute gratefully acknowledges corporate and philanthropic supporters of the Standards for Excellence initiative. We have received support from the following institutions:

We are also grateful to local supporters of the Standards for Excellence program who invest in Standards for Excellence initiatives and programs offered by Standards for Excellence replication partners around the country. For more information on local funders, please visit websites of licensed Standards for Excellence replication partners.

The Standards for Excellence originated as a special initiative of Maryland Nonprofits in 1998 and has since expanded into a national program to help nonprofit organizations achieve the highest benchmarks of ethics and accountability in nonprofit governance, management and operations.

Maryland Nonprofits is one of the nation’s largest nonprofit associations and serves as the collective voice for over 28,000 nonprofit organizations in Maryland. Maryland Nonprofits helps develop and support a nonprofit’s ability to engage communities by educating their boards, staff, and volunteers through professional development opportunities; group savings on services; addressing government and legislative issues; and providing key information on how to start and operate a nonprofit. With over 1,000 members* and 200 associate members* across the state, Maryland Nonprofits promotes the Standards for Excellence Institute, a nationally-replicated accreditation program that enhances governance, management and the public’s trust in the nonprofit sector.

*Numbers updated September 2015

Beginning in July 2012, Standards staff and volunteer leaders were engaged in an in-depth review of the entire initiative to ensure that the program and all of its resources continue to provide the guidance that nonprofits need to operate in the current environment. The changes and updates made were intended to ensure the code is contemporary and relevant, without losing any of the essential building blocks in nonprofit governance and management.

In September 2012, a national taskforce of over thirty thought leaders in the nonprofit sector was convened to conduct a full review of the Standards for Excellence program and its impact, including the code and program delivery.

The Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector version 2.0 was launched in April 2014 through the Standards for Excellence Institute and is being launched by Standards for Excellence replication partners.

Learn more

An April 2014 study of 102 nonprofit organizations that have been accredited through the Standards for Excellence program compared with peer organizations of similar size and industry examined the impact of acquiring the accreditation. Significant findings include:

  • Nonprofit organizations exhibit tangible benefits from receiving the Standards for Excellence accreditation
  • The accreditation process is associated with an increase direct public support

Overall, the results in this paper provide supporting evidence of the positive impacts of the comprehensive accreditation program offered by the Standards for Excellence Institute and its licensed partners.

The Standards Community

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Total numbers as of December 2016

Our Replication Partners