I have just completed a two day course learning about Imagine Canada’s certification standards and am convinced it is going to set a new benchmark for the nonprofit sector in Canada.
Certification standards are a growing global trend. Standards in the commodity market have been in place for so long that the logos on products such as paper, seafood and coffee are widely recognized. The services market is not as far advanced but it is not far behind. Imagine Canada is the only national cross-sector certification standard for nonprofits in Canada and it is attracting attention from other countries for its rigorous volunteer peer-review certification process.
The nonprofit sector is in need of a certification standard. Public trust in institutions is declining and the charitable sector is no exception. The level of trust in people who run charities declined from 80% to 71% in just nine years (2004 to 2013). The trend is not alarming but it is concerning especially since the drop in other professions was not as severe. The charitable sector also needs to take control over the dialogue around fundraising costs. The media and public fixation on fundraising and administration percentages does not tell a complete and accurate story of effectiveness and impact. It also creates a dangerous temptation for unscrupulous organizations to try and manipulate their numbers. It is only through a system such as Imagine Canada’s certification standards in the areas of board governance, financial accounting & transparency, staff & volunteer management and fundraising that organizations can be compared fairly and the public’s trust can be restored.
As with the certification standards in the commodities markets, the leaders in the industry are the early adopters. As the public begins to recognize the logo and engaged donors do their due diligence, it becomes a competitive advantage for those that have it. The early win is when markets shift to favour those with certification. Since the Imagine Canada certification process takes from 6-12 months, it will not be easy for laggards to catch up. Once the certification is widely recognized it will become the norm and donors may raise questions when an organization has not achieved or is unable to achieve certification.
The Imagine Canada standards are so rigorous that they end up being a great indicator of organizational sustainability. Any organization that can achieve the certification can be said to have an engaged board and strong leadership. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to say that about every nonprofit in Canada?