National Standards by the Numbers, Part II

Last week’s blog cited demographic data from many of the foundations that have recently completed reconfirmation with the National Standards program. In the survey, we also asked foundations how they felt about the program, what areas could be improved, and if anything should be changed. When asked if the foundation changed its practices in the last five years since confirmation, 40 percent said “somewhat” and 55 percent said “not significantly.” Of the other foundations who responded, 33 percent had changes in stewardship and grantmaking, followed by 27 percent in mission, structure, and governance.

In questions regarding the National Standards seal, 82 percent of respondents use it heavily or moderately to differentiate their foundation from other charitable vehicles. Key stakeholders that recognize the importance of Standards included:

  • Current donors 67%
  • Prospective donors 61%
  • Board of directors 93%
  • Local nonprofits 46%
  •  National funders 44%
  •  Professional advisers 62%
  •  Community leaders 39%

In 2007, a survey of the field included questions about the value of the National Standards Seal and program. Respondents were asked to rate a series of statements on a scale of 1–7 with 1 representing “strongly disagree” and 7 representing “strongly agree.” The mean average of the responses is nearly the same between 2007 and 2012. The full list of statements and mean values can be seen here.  

90 percent of respondents said National Standards should not expand coverage to include a broader range of community foundation activities, such as onsite peer review or National Standards for Affiliates, which is not currently covered by National Standards. Open-ended questions about how the program could be improved yielded many responses—some positive and some negative. Respondents liked the website but noted that some documents are out-of-date or non-existent. The time to complete the review is too long and labor-intensive, others said. Some noted that the reviews seemed nitpicky and difficult to understand. Others suggested ways we could improve the process, such as providing better timelines and expectations, while others want to build greater value for the recognition of National Standards.

Evaluation is very important in any program. We use feedback to improve and make the program stronger. As the National Standards come up on another five-year anniversary of review, all of this data will be raised to the field-wide committees as they begin their work.