From mega-charity (Sick Kids Foundation, Plan Canada) to small but mighty (Sarnia Lambton Rebound: A Program for Youth), 17 charities were already on board when Imagine Canada launched its long-planned Standards Program on May 8.
Designed to strengthen public confidence in the charitable and nonprofit sector, the national program is one of the first of its kind in the world. Its accreditation testifies to an organization's excellence in five key areas: board governance, financial accountability and transparency, ethical fundraising, staff management and volunteer involvement.
"Now, more than ever before, it is important for charities and nonprofits to keep the hard-earned confidence and trust of the public," says Imagine Canada president and CEO Marcel Lauzière. "An organization that has been accredited through this program has demonstrated that it has put in place the policies, procedures and practices to make it a truly effective organization."
Education, access are key principles
The program focuses on common elements of management and governance that Imagine Canada says are relevant for all charities. It does not include program or service standards that many organizations have already developed in areas specific to their work.
The charities signed up so far were part of a pilot group that helped to test and validate the accreditation process. Information about how to comply with the standards, as well as tools and resources to help organizations continue to strengthen their governance practices is available free.
"Our philosophy is one of open access," Lauzière explains, "so that even if an organization does not wish to go through the formal accreditation process, it can still make full use of the program information to improve its practices in these key areas."
Recognizing that some of the Standards may not apply to very small organizations, Imagine Canada has categorized them into three levels based on the size of the organization.
Trustmark certifies compliance
Organizations that achieve accreditation through a peer review process will be allowed to use the program trustmark for five years. When Canadians see this trustmark on a charity or nonprofit's website or fundraising and promotional materials, they can be confident that the accredited organization has successfully demonstrated compliance with the standards, Imagine Canada says.
The organization intends to monitor accredited participants through spot audits and complaints-based investigations.
Where Standards came from
The program began in 2006 with discussions about expanding the scope and rigour of Imagine Canada's long-standing Ethical Code Program. Volunteer Canada and the HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector soon joined the conversation.
In 2010, 51 organizations became founding members of the Standards Program. A steering committee and then a Standards Council were formed to oversee the program, with the Imagine Canada Board accepting legal responsibility.
In mid-2011, several founding members participated in a pilot of the accreditation process. In the fall of that year, the Standards Council asked Canadian charities and nonprofits to nominate qualified candidates as peer reviewers. The peer review panel met in early 2012 to evaluate the applications of pilot participants and make decisions on accreditation.