By the end of 2011, Imagine Canada will be launching its
Standards Program, which will provide a nation-wide guideline to charities and
nonprofit organizations in the areas of fundamental governance, paid-staff
management, financial accountability, fundraising and volunteer involvement.
Part of this Program is a voluntary accreditation program where organizations
wishing to publically demonstrate their compliance with the Program’s standards
may do so through a third-party peer review system in place.
The goals and standards of this program are:
¨ To help charities and nonprofits improve their
practices by providing educational tools and capacity-building initiatives;
¨ To foster public trust, promote confidence in
the sector and protect both the credibility of the sector and the interests of
¨ To create a community of practice in the
charitable and nonprofit sector; and
¨ To unite the charitable and nonprofit section
through shared standards that demonstrate good governance of the community
organizations that the public entrusts Imagine Canada to lead.
The Standards Program will be piloted in 2011 with only
the founding members of the program followed by a public launch with charities
and public benefit nonprofits in 2012.
The Program is a partnership project between Imagine
Canada, Volunteer Canada and the HR Council for the nonprofit sector. The idea
of such a program came about in 2006 when the Accountability Reference Group
(ARG), a creation of Imagine Canada began discussions on general standards of the
charitable and nonprofit sector. Within the next year, a Standards Steering
Committee was formed to formulate a plan for a national program. In July, 2009
the Steering Committee released A Proposal to Implement Voluntary Standards
of Excellence in Canada’s Voluntary Section.
After receiving positive feedback from charitable and
nonprofit organizations in March, 2010 Imagine Canada hosted a standards forum
where it discussed its implementation plan to launch a national standards program.
51 of the 200 participating organizations became founding members of the
Standards Program. Twenty-seven of the founding members combined with the
Imagine Canada Board became what is known as the Standards Steering Committee.
C. PROGRAM OVERSIGHT
The Program will be governed by the Standards Steering
Committee in which an independent Standards Council will oversee the Program
while the Imagine Canada Board will bear legal responsibility for actions of
The Standards Council’s role is to oversee the entire
Program. The Council’s members are composed through a dual system of
appointment by Imagine Canada’s Board and election by the founding members. Its
duties include, along with many other things, recommending Program policies and
procedures to the Imagine Canada Board, approving the standards, and
recommending participation fees.
The Board is composed of elected members of Imagine Canada
for a three year renewable term. Responsibilities include, but are not limited
to the following areas of oversight: Program policies and procedures, approval
of participation fees, and the right to appoint three people to serve on the
The mandate of the Standards Council is to effectively
oversee the Standard’s Program under the supervision and authority of the
Imagine Canada’s Board of Directors, as well as to ensure the existence of an
efficient process to create future Standards Councils.
D. ACCREDITATION PROCESS
The accreditation process has three different stages. The
first stage is the preparation stage which can take anywhere from 3-9 months
depending on the size and sophistication of the organization. Individuals who
wish to participate in the Program will be required to sign a participation
agreement and pay the application fee. This participation agreement will allow
Imagine Canada staff to gain access to the organization’s information and
assist it prepare its application for membership.
Once the application is submitted the review and approval
process is initiated, it can take anywhere between 6-9 months for the Committee
to make a decision. When the initial application is submitted, it will be
reviewed by seven regional members of a national peer review committee. The
Review Committee can make one of four decisions: accreditation, conditional
accreditation (90% compliance), revise and resubmit, and non-accreditation.
If the organization is accredited, then the board of an
organization is required to submit compliance documents to the Committee
stating that it will stay in compliance with the standards during its
accredited period. Each accredited period is five years, after which the
organization is required to resubmit an application for renewal of its status.
The compliance will be monitored through onsite spot checks/audits of 3-5% of
organizations by peer reviewers and staff. If an organization is found to be in
breach of any of the standards the organization will be investigated and
provided with an opportunity to explain the breach and remedy the situation.
Application forms are specific to where one falls on the
three levels of organizations and can be obtained by contacting Imagine Canada
The application deadline for the 2011 pilot program is September 30, 2011. In
November, 2011 the Peer Review Committee will meet to make accreditation
decisions. In upcoming years there will be two intake periods annually and
applications will be reviewed within 4-6 weeks of each deadline.
Fees for the Program depend on the size of the
organization applying. There are two types of fees involved: Application Fees
and License Fees. Application fees are paid in initially in year one during the
preparation stage, and later upon renewal of the status. Licensing fees on the
other hand are annual and initially paid at the review and approval stage. The
fee amount for each type of fee depends on the size of the organization.
Standards are broken down into three levels and depending
on where the organization falls on that scale it will be required to comply
with its level’s standards. Level 1 is for organizations with less than one
full-time equivalent (FTE) employee. Level 2 is for organizations with between
1 and 50 FTE employees and up to $5 million in annual operating expenses. Level
3 is for organizations with more than 50 FTE employees or over $5 million in
annual operating expenses. Annual operating expenses equals average operating
expenses over the last three years. For Charities, it is the amount on line
5100 of their Registered Charity Information Returns (T3010).
Section A of the Standards focuses on Governance
Standards. This section focuses on the organization’s culture, objectives,
mission and values. It focuses on whether boards have implemented a strategic
operating plan, to ensure proper oversight of the organization’s activities
There are 27 different sections however, a significant number of them do not
apply to Level 1 organizations.
Section B of the Standards focuses on Financial
Accountability Standards. This is a small yet very important section. This
section applies to all Levels of organizations. This area concerns annual
financial statements particularly in the areas of auditing financial
statements, public availability of certain financial statements, and annual
operating budgets, There is a standard applicable only to charities whereby the
board of a charity must ensure that it has a process to ensure timely and
accurate submission of the organization’s Registered Charity Information Return
Section C of the Standards focuses on Fundraising
Standards. This section concerns fundraising policies, donations and gifts, and
privacy of donors. There are a few standards applicable to charities only. For
example, the charity must ensure that all donations are used to support the
charity’s objects, as registered with CRA. The other standard relating to
charities concerns income tax receipts for gifts whereby for charities an
official income tax receipt must be prepared, whereas for nonprofit
organizations it may acknowledge in writing that certain contributions are not
entitled to be officially receipted.
Section D of the Standards focuses on Staff Management
Standards. Except for ensuring that the organization provides a safe work
environment and an environment free of harassment the rest of the 24 standards
do not apply to Level 1 organizations. The rest of the standards concern
management policies, internal conflict resolution policies and resource
allocation for employee training and development.
The final section, E, is Volunteer Involvement Standards.
It is a relatively small section compared to the other sections. However 7 out
of 10 of the standards are applicable to all levels of organizations. The
standards that concern all levels are: organization policy and procedures to
support volunteer involvement. The ones that do not apply to Level 1 concern
formal volunteer recruitment, and regular evaluation of impact and contribution
of volunteers and the volunteer program itself.
Each level has its own set of expectations and procedures
to follow and thus, it is imperative that organizations follow the standards
for the level they belong to in order to ensure full compliance with the
The introduction of the Standards Program will provide a
significant opportunity for charities and nonprofits to create a national image
of excellence. Whether an organization’s board voluntarily participates in the
Accreditation Program or simply incorporates the national standards into the
governance of the organization, the existence of such a Program will help to ensure
that charities and nonprofits are provided with guidelines in order to ensure
the effective operation of the organization while staying within the parameters
of high ethical standards and due diligence.