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Six steps to assess the fortitude of your organizational processes

Six steps to assess the fortitude of your organizational processes

Displaying the progress of a cocoon to a monarch butterfly

A step-by-step guide to use Imagine Canada's publicly-available standards to stabilize your organization.

As consultants, we work with charities and companies to design organizational improvements. While collaborating with a nonprofit recently, we realized that the biggest opportunity to strengthen the sustainability of the organization was to focus on structure and decision making. Once we identified governance as the area to focus on, we decided to review the related standards from Imagine Canada’s accreditation program. It was a very efficient and valuable exercise that saved the organization months of effort.

The Standards Program offers a Canada-wide set of 73 shared standards for charities and nonprofits designed to strengthen their capacity in five fundamental areas:

  • Board governance (24)
  • Financial accountability and transparency (13)
  • Fundraising (14)
  • Staff management (13)
  • Volunteer involvement (9)

These publicly available standards can be used by any organization - accredited or not - in bite-size pieces to strengthen your organization in areas that are most important to you. If your organization is not ready to begin the accreditation process, but keen to improve its operational practices, this self-assessment guide is for you. 

How to use (some of) the standards, step by step.

Step 1: Choose one of five areas that supports your current priorities

Select the area that provides direction and guidance to your highest priority or largest opportunity for improvement. You can download the standards here. In this recent example, we worked on governance.

Step 2: Prepare for a self-assessment

We created a spreadsheet that included the following three headings: Standard and evidence, Standard met (Y/N), Comments.
Here is an example:

Self-assessment spreadsheet
Standard and Evidence
Standard met (Y/N) Comments
A1. The organization has a mission statement that is approved and revisited by the board at least every five years to assess its continuing relevance
  • Process board uses to review mission statement
  • Date board last reviewed mission statement
Mission statement reviewed annually during strategic planning
Board secretary confirmed the last review was April 27, 2020
Repeat for each standard in the chosen area

The standards include a statement summary as well as a clear description of what it looks like in real life. Any organization can use the standards, at no cost, to improve and monitor its practices.

Step 3: Conduct a self-assessment

In this recent example, the lead of the organization completed the self-assessment. The process is not time intensive and can be completed by one person as consultation will follow.
A key outcome of this step is a draft baseline self-assessment.

Step 4: Solicit input

Review the results of the draft self-assessment with staff and the board to collect and incorporate feedback. If appropriate include other stakeholders such as funders or community partners.

Step 5: Identify and prioritize gaps

Once the self-assessment is finalized and gaps are identified, prioritize them based on importance to your organization and your objectives. Some gaps may be more significant to you than others. It was helpful for us in the prioritization process to connect the gaps to the organization’s strategic plan goals.
A key outcome of this step is focus.

Step 6: Develop actions plans

Develop improvement plans with milestones and timelines for the top three gaps. Delegate leadership accountability for each plan. Share the plans and communicate progress updates to all who provided input.

Key outcomes of this step are action plans and communication on process toward plans.


Within two weeks we had completed a self-assessment against national standards supported by meaningful discussions with staff and board members. The organization was able to efficiently identify gaps and develop focused implementation plans that improved governance capabilities.

The Standards Program supplied the framework for the organization to baseline their current state, objectively identify gaps in their desired state, and provide direction for sustainable improvement.

The next time your organization is tackling some big questions and looking for guidance, take a look at Imagine Canada's publicly-available standards. It is like having a nonprofit expert at your side. Go ahead, try it yourself.


Guest contributions represent the personal opinions and insights of the authors and may not reflect the views or opinions of Imagine Canada.

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