Guest column – Self-governance is critical

By Paul Bamford

Readers of these electronic pages are by now very familiar with Todd Cohen’s view that recent scandals in the philanthropic sector must not be ignored.

Most recently he accused charities of being “in denial” and failing to take action to assure their donors and volunteers that they are “lean, nimble and effective.”

Fair enough. But how does a nonprofit accomplish this?

One good way is to take advantage of the standards for charitable accountability that have been developed by such organizations as the Better Business Bureau, the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits and, I would guess, other state associations of nonprofit organizations.

In my own organization’s case, Durham Health Partners has carefully reviewed the Better Business Bureau’s “Wise Giving Alliance Standards for Charitable Accountability” (see, determined to comply with or exceed all of them, and then publicized our compliance to our donors.

To be sure, there are some costs for taking this step.

There are 20 very detailed standards addressing governance, measurement of effectiveness, financial control, and truthfulness in fundraising and marketing.

They include benchmarks on fundraising costs (35 percent or less), limits on accumulation of unrestricted assets, and limitations on compensation of Board members.

Although Durham Health Partners was already near full compliance, we had to take some additional steps to finalize that compliance and to document it.

For example, we registered with our local Better Business Bureau so that it would have contact information in the event of a complaint.

Durham Health Partners now quite proudly announces our compliance with these standards in our annual report, and in the case statement we will use in soliciting support from major contributors.

I encourage others to do the same, and I encourage donors to avoid organizations that do not comply.

If we do not want the heavy hand of government to increase its regulation of our sector, we should all take advantage of the work of private standard-setters to do a better job of governing ourselves and of letting our contributors know that we are.

Paul Bamford is fund development director for Durham Health Partners, in Durham, N.C., and a member of the board of directors of the Triangle Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

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