Make a New Year’s Resolution to Strengthen Your Nonprofit
By Amy Coates Madsen, Director, Standards for Excellence Institute
Happy New Year! There are so many things that mark the beginning of the calendar year for me. Choosing or designing a new calendar, enjoying the holiday decorations for a few more days (or perhaps, weeks) after the rush of the holidays is behind us, and generally, having that feeling of a fresh start.
There are symbols of “fresh starts” all around. Setting goals for the year, renewing commitments to exercise, getting enough sleep, eating better and taking those vitamins—these are all things that I
focus on this time of year.
For some, their “fresh start” is evidenced by joining a gym (or, in my case, actually attending the gym that I’ve been paying for)! There is a huge number of articles, tweets, and posts this time of year about how valuable it is to get your 30 minutes of exercise. Gyms, weight loss programs, and fitness regimes are in the midst of their busy seasons.
But gyms and weight loss programs are not the only folks who experience a surge in activity this time of year. For me and my work at the Standards for Excellence Institute (a project of Maryland Nonprofits), I find that the new year brings out lots and lots of folks interested in starting a nonprofit. While I have no empirical data to support this, I have found that in the first few weeks of the new year, I always get lots of calls and emails from folks who want to start a new nonprofit. I had multiple calls on this topic in a single day last week, during the first week of the new year. Perhaps everyone has spent the holidays reflecting on their lives and have found that they want to make a difference in their communities over the course of the coming year. Maybe folks are fed up with a problem in their communities or maybe folks have a renewed sense of hope around finding a solution to a difficult problem.
What they may or may not realize is that starting and sustaining a nonprofit organization is hard work. Oftentimes, it’s actually smarter NOT to start a nonprofit at all, but to connect with other existing nonprofits to work together. I actually spend a good part of conversations with folks interested in starting a nonprofit encouraging them to partner up with an existing organization rather than take all of the deliberate steps to start an independent nonprofit organization. For those that end up deciding to take the plunge and establish a nonprofit organization, websites of state associations of nonprofits, like the Maryland Nonprofits website is chocked full of great information, checklists, and web links in its “Starting a Nonprofit” resources list. This web page is a great place to start for folks interested in starting a nonprofit organization.
For those who successfully establish nonprofits, there is no better place to start than with a plan to live according to the Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector.
The Standards for Excellence code provides a consensus model for how the most well managed and responsibly governed organizations operate. The code serves as a great
Amy Coates Madsen is the Director of the Standards for Excellence Institute, a national initiative to promote the highest standards of ethics and accountability in nonprofit governance, management, and operations, and to facilitate adherence to standards by all organizations. The Standards for Excellence Institute is a program of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations where Amy has served for more than sixteen years. Amy is responsible for coordinating all aspects of the association’s comprehensive ethics and accountability program and efforts to replicate the program nationally. She serves as a frequent trainer and writer in the areas of board conduct, program evaluation, program replication, fundraising ethics, and nonprofit management. She has taught courses on nonprofit ethics and accountability at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies Certificate Program on Nonprofit Management. She has held positions at the Trenton lobbying firm of the Princeton Public Affairs Group, and the Public Policy Liaison Unit at the world headquarters of Catholic Relief Services. Amy received her Master of Arts in Policy Studies degree from the Johns Hopkins University – Institute for Policy Studies in Baltimore, Maryland; and her
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