Best Practices for Nonprofit Excellence

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on October 2nd, 2009 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary


I love the New York Times.  I’m not one of those snobs who thinks that if you aren’t reading the NYT you aren’t reading a paper, though.  It just does good journalism—and more. 

The Times recently announced that the application for its fourth annual Nonprofit Excellence Awards[1] (to be awarded in June 2010) is now available.  (By the “fourth annual” I figure this isn’t a fly-by-night deal, but something that is really here to stay.  So, it is safe to sing its praises.)  But this isn’t your normal “nonprofit excellence” awards that just highlight the good work that nonprofits do.  No, this is recognizing the good operations that allow for the even better work to happen.  

Just take a look at the application.  First, well, actually, the first question is a problem.  It asks the applicant to provide the organization’s mission statement but then says if the mission statement doesn’t “make clear what your organization aims to do—its core purpose,” then provide one to two sentences that do.  Oh, no!  If the mission doesn’t do it, that organization should automatically be disqualified. 

But the remaining eight questions? Oh my, be still my heart!  Here’s what they ask the applicant to describe. 

  1. How is the organization getting at measurable results that show the organization is advancing its mission?
  2. How does the board add value (concept!), help the organization perform better and lead “in concert with management?”
  3. What is the role of the board and senior staff in creating and monitoring the annual budget?
  4. What is the organization doing to ensure that it is “diverse, culturally competent, and responsive to emerging issues or communities?”
  5. How does the organization use and care for its human and technological resources?  (Not sure I like that they put these two in the same question—sort of equating them—but that is truly insignificant in the larger scheme of what the Times is doing.)
  6. How do they communicate with their external and internal stakeholders?
  7. How do they “effectively and ethically develop resources?”
  8. Provide three examples of how they incorporate best practices for management excellence.

How good is this?  Would that all funders paid attention to how the organization was being run instead of just what the organization did.  Nonprofits serving the needs of the community are a dime a dozen.  Nonprofits abiding by best practices for excellence in management and governance are few and far between.  And yet they are the ones that are most likely to use a donor’s money effectively and efficiently; they are the ones most likely actually getting the results they promise in their fundraising literature; and they are the ones least likely to end up as tomorrow’s headlines. 

Unfortunately, because the dollar prize is very nice but the honor worth even more, these awards are only open to nonprofits in the New York City metropolitan area.  But I’m hoping for a spillover effect:  other award-giving organizations and funders may take note and follow suit.


Kudos to the Times and its collaborators.




[1] The Times isn’t doing this on its own; it has two key collaborators:  Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York and Philanthropy New York

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