Independent Sector has just released Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice, after three years of discussion on the best ways to encourage self-governance and self-regulation in the nonprofit sector. If you receive any foundation funding, you can bet that those funders will insist you adopt these practices and work toward their full implementation.

Several of the 33 principles included in the guide relate directly to your communications and marketing work. I’ve copied those below and added my comments in parentheses. You’ll note that several of these are similar to the principles I highlighted earlier this month from the NC Center for Nonprofits, which other state associations also advocate.

“7. A charitable organization should make information about its operations, including its governance, finances, programs and activities, widely available to the public. Charitable organizations also should consider making information available on the methods they use to evaluate the outcomes of their work and sharing the results of those evaluations.”

(The report specifically mentions nonprofit annual reports and nonprofit websites as two ways to implement this principle.)

“11. The board of a charitable organization should include members with the diverse background (including, but not limited to, ethnic, racial and gender perspectives), experience, and organizational and financial skills necessary to advance the organization’s mission.

(The report mentions that many nonprofits strive to include someone on their board with “public relations and marketing” experience.)

“27. Solicitation materials and other communications addressed to donors and the public must clearly identify the organization and be accurate and truthful.”

(I found this statement particularly interesting: “Descriptions of program activities and the financial condition of the organization must be current and accurate, and any references to past activities or events should be dated appropriately.” Too many nonprofits rely on really old accomplishments in their fundraising and outreach materials and this clearly discourages that kind of behavior.)

“28. Contributions must be used for purposes consistent with the donor’s intent, whether as described in the relevant solicitation materials or as specifically directed by the donor.”

(I also found this one interesting, because many nonprofit communicators focus on one particular project in their materials, but funds raised with those materials are often put into the general operating fund. You’ll need to carefully word your solicitations and supporting materials to comply with this one.)

“29. A charitable organization must provide donors with specific acknowledgments of charitable contributions, in accordance with IRS requirements, as well as information to facilitate the donors’ compliance with tax law requirements.”

(Yes! Someone is finally requiring a thank-you note to donors! The report also adds: “Regular updates to donors on the
activities they support is another way to build trust and loyalty.” Right on.)

“33. A charitable organization should respect the privacy of individual donors and, except where disclosure is required by law, should not sell or otherwise make available the names and contact information of its donors without providing them an opportunity at least once a year to opt out of the use of their names.”

(This is why nonprofits should be using an automated email delivery service — my favorite is iContact — and not Outlook or other personal email programs, to send email newsletters and blasts.)

As I continue to write about best practices on this blog, I’ll try to remember to link them back to these principles where relevant, so you can use them to help justify your work to the higher-ups.

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