In the late 1990s, intense scrutiny by elected officials on the laws and regulations governing charitable giving was a catalyst for action by community foundation leaders. While the philanthropic sector had flourished and focused on delivery of its work at home and around the globe, a handful of high-profile scandals raised the shadow of fraud and abuse for policymakers.

Recognizing that reactionary policies in the wake of a few bad actors could have serious negative consequences for the rest, community foundation leaders mobilized to turn the spotlight onto themselves, resulting in the National Standards program. By codifying a high bar for conduct, ethics, transparency, and compliance, community foundation leaders established a framework designed to exceed the expectations of lawmakers and the public for strict adherence to the law in service to donors and communities nationwide. Used in combination with focused engagement and advocacy with elected officials, the 26 National Standards distinctly highlight the seriousness with which community foundation leaders view the law and their commitment to the communities they support.

In 2005, the first community foundations were accredited, and today the Council on Foundations continues to provide operational support for the National Standards program. Wholly directed and administered by the Community Foundations National Standards Board, the program is structured to create a system of checks and balances to ensure program integrity.