Standards Program Trustmark An Excellent Safeguard

Louise MacDonald, Victoria Foundation

This article originally appeared in The Scrivener (Volume 22 Number 4 Winter 2013), a publication of The Society of Notaries Public of British Columbia.  Louise MacDonald is Director, Governance and Executive Operations, at the Victoria Foundation. You can reach her by phone at 250.381.5532 or email.


The not-for-profit sector is increasingly under the microscope.

While charities and not-for-profits fill an essential gap in our communities, the public is often undecided about which charity to support. Donors want to know their money is being used wisely and having an impact.

Without a fair bit of research, it is often hard for the public to distinguish the work of one charity from another, whether it be an environmental group, arts organization, or social services agency. A recent survey by the Edmonton-based Muttart Foundation called Talking About Charities 2013 found 25 per cent of those surveyed disagreed that charities are honest about how they use donations and only 21 per cent said charities are doing a good or excellent job at providing information about fundraising costs.

Charities must be transparent about their work to maintain their reputation and the trust of donors, volunteers, clients, and sponsors. The new national accreditation program from Imagine Canada will help them do that.

Imagine Canada is a national charitable organization whose cause is Canada’s charities and not-for-profits. They do research and public policy advocacy and consultation on behalf of the sector and provide information and education for members and nonmembers alike. In May 2012, Imagine Canada publicly launched a Standards Program aimed at building organizational capacity. It offers accreditation to charities and not-for-profits that can demonstrate excellence in five key areas.

  • Board governance
  • Financial accountability and transparency
  • Fundraising
  • Staff management
  • Volunteer involvement

The focus is on foundational standards that are relevant for all charities and not-for-profits. It does not include program or service standards that many organizations have already developed in areas specific to their work. The program is one of the first of its kind globally at a national level.

Says Marcel Lauzière, President and CEO of Imagine Canada, “The information about how to comply with the standards as well as the tools and resources to help organizations continue to strengthen their governance practices is available free-of-charge. Our philosophy is one of open access, so that even if an organization does not wish to go through the formal accreditation process, it can still make full use of the program information to improve its practices in those key areas.”

Since the program was launched last year, 82 organizations across Canada have received accreditation, 11 of them in BC. In Victoria, they include the Victoria Foundation, The Cridge Centre for the Family, BC Cancer Foundation, and British Columbia SPCA.

Imagine CanadaMore and more organizations have earned the right to display the Standards Program trustmark and the public can be assured that the process is rigorous and thorough. As an example, prior to Imagine Canada launching this program, the staff and volunteer Board of Directors of the Victoria Foundation had worked on creating and updating Foundation policies and procedures, including developing an extensive Board Governance document. Although we knew we were in good shape to proceed, we found we were missing a couple of policies and some existing policies and procedures needed additional work or revisions.

Charities must be transparent about their work to maintain their reputation and the trust of donors, volunteers, clients, and sponsors.

The benefits of receiving accreditation through the Standards Program are many. Says Victoria Foundation Board Chair Deirdre Roberts, “While governance is never complete or finished, as a volunteer, knowing the organization has a strong framework makes it very comfortable to step in. It provides direction for Board and staff.” Going through the program gives organizations the opportunity to update critical policies and compare their procedures against leading practices.

Grant requests and surveys of not-for-profits show that governance is one of the key challenges faced by the sector. In March 2013 the Victoria Foundation brought Ontario-based Don McCreesh to Victoria to conduct governance workshops. While Mr. McCreesh has an extensive background in the corporate sector, he also spent 40 years as a leader in the charitable and not-for-profit sectors at local, national, and international levels.

Past Chair of the Board of Imagine Canada and Chair of the Standards Council, Mr. McCreesh is considered an expert on governance, strategy, and organizational issues. While in Victoria, he conducted “Building a Strong Board” workshops for local charities where participants gained practical tools to enhance the functioning of their Boards that will result in stronger and more transparent organizations. All organizations know that they must aim for continuous improvement; workshops such as this are beneficial to both staff and volunteer Board members.

In October this year, Victoria not-for-profit organizations had the opportunity to attend an event with Dr. Michelle Gauthier, Vice President, Public Policy and Community Engagement, at Imagine Canada. She talked about the ways Imagine Canada advocates on behalf of the sector and stressed that the more professional the sector becomes, the more credibility the sector will have with government and the public.

Although the work required by the Standards Program to receive accreditation may seem forbidding, the result will enhance the reputation of participating organizations, mitigate risk, and attract quality volunteers. Imagine Canada monitors accredited organizations via spot audits and complaints-based investigations so the Canadian public can be confident that those organizations displaying the Standards Program trustmark are in compliance with the standards.

A good reputation is most important for charities and not-for-profits. Accreditation through the Imagine Canada Standards Program is another way for them to keep the hard-earned confidence and trust of the public.