Guidelines & Principles Overview

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Guidelines & Principles for Nonprofit Excellence in Nebraska & Iowa has three intended purposes:

  1. Provide individual charitable organizations striving for excellence with a state-specific tool for evaluating regulatory compliance, enhancing strategic planning, and refining operational evaluation.
  2. Support the growth and quality of the sector.
  3. Increase public understanding of the role and contributions of the charitable nonprofit sector in Nebraska & Iowa.

Please note that these guidelines and principles are not designed to be used by funders or government as a “litmus test” to evaluate charitable organizations, nor are they intended to be a substitute for the wisdom of directors, staff, and advisors of individual organizations.

This guidebook is not meant to be construed as legal advice, nor is it a substitute for individualized consultation with an attorney.

Infrastructure Checklist

This Infrastructure Checklist is a quick guide to the documentation, systems, policies, procedures, and support mechanisms that nonprofit organizations should have in place to comply with the law, and to function effectively, efficiently, and transparently.

The Checklist is focused on WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE IN PLACE rather than HOW you should use those systems/processes.

The Checklist recommendations are applicable to small grassroots organizations and large, multi-site networks. It provides a starting point for 501(c)(3) organizations in Nebraska and Iowa. Please keep in mind that your organization may be subject to additional rules or regulations due to your unique mission, subsector, or activities.

Compiling the Checklist information is well worth your time. Much of this information is needed to receive grant funding and demonstrate professional accountability to the public, your clients, and prospective donors.

The items listed under “Required” are state or federal requirements, notated as NE (Nebraska law), IA (Iowa law) or US (federal law).

Failure to comply with regulations may jeopardize your organization’s legal standing and ultimately your ability to serve your constituents.

Beyond the legal requirements, this is a time of increased accountability and public scrutiny. It is important for an organization to be able to answer questions quickly and accurately about its operations. Such items are listed under “Strongly Recommended” and “Recommended.”

After completing the Infrastructure Checklist, you can use it to note your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, determine priorities, determine any issues to take to your board, and plan a course for improvement. A good next step is to use the Practices Assessment for any area(s) of organizational weakness for guidance on how to implement positive change.

Practices Assessment

This assessment is designed to help you identify what your organization is doing well and create an action plan for addressing organizational challenges. Honesty is critical to conducting a thorough assessment and establishing real goals. Whether your results are a cause for celebration, make you mildly uncomfortable, or send up multiple red flags for potential crisis or conflict, please remember that the results belong to your organization. They are the first step in moving towards making your organization stronger, more efficient, and having greater mission impact.

The Practices Assessment is:

  • A starting point for organizational assessment and planning

It will present a broad overview of your organization’s current level of functioning and provide resources to strengthen areas of weakness.

  • A non-judgmental resource

Guidelines & Principles is an internal assessment tool, not an instrument for comparing your organization to others. It is designed for you to compare your organization’s practices to the best ones in the sector to help you determine the strengths and challenges of your nonprofit. Your results should be considered within the context of your organization’s stage of development as well. Organizations early in their development may naturally score lower in some areas than more mature organizations. Understanding nonprofit lifecycles and the interconnectedness of capacity and impact is critical in setting appropriate benchmarks and goals for your organization.

  • Brief and relatively painless

Rather than focus on one particular aspect of your organization, this tool provides a quick “first glance” of the entire organization, focusing on the interconnection and relevance of all actions to organizational accountability and mission achievement.

The Practices Assessment is not:

  • The be-all, end-all of organizational assessment

Many models exist; many models are effective. It is important to remember that this Practices Assessment is an objective source of information not reliant upon or designed to reflect on any particular paradigm or style for management or governance. Guidelines & Principles is designed to be a stepping stone, allowing you to assess your current strengths and challenges and then leading you to develop an action plan that will enhance your chance for success.

  • A quick fix for whatever ails you

This tool will not solve all of your problems, but it will help you identify critical areas and identify specific actions that will bring you closer to resolution.

  • Accreditation or certification

The experience of completing this assessment is personal in that it belongs to your organization. The intrinsic value in completing the Guidelines & Principles Practices Assessment comes in the knowledge of how to move your organization forward more effectively.

Potential Applications of the Practices Assessment

  • Individual

As a new executive or lead volunteer, you may find it helpful to complete the assessment as a way to orient yourself to the organization you serve. The results can provide a personal work plan or frame of reference as you move forward. Seasoned executives and volunteers will find the tool equally helpful as a reflection and assessment practice to aid in future planning.

  • Team/Focus Group

For a broader sense, gather a team or focus group to complete the Practices Assessment. Involve a range of staff, volunteers, and service recipients as appropriate. Compile responses for an overall perspective. A more objective picture will be available if the post-assessment process involves an outside facilitator.

  • Board Assessment

Invite the board to complete the assessment as individuals or small groups and then compile the feedback. The results can provide a good starting point for a strategic planning retreat or program planning meeting, and can also serve as a positive first step for a new executive and his/her board.

  • Consultant

A consultant could facilitate the Guidelines & Principles Assessment process for your organization, help to interpret the results, and work with you to design a plan of action. Having an objective outside party can be very helpful as they can often draw out thoughts and issues that might not otherwise be revealed.


Definitions The following terms are used throughout this document:

A guideline is a recommendation suggesting how something should be done or what sort of action should be taken.

A principle is a broad statement that defines a suggested ethical or managerial direction for a nonprofit organization.

A practice is a suggested method to aid in achieving the principles.

Whenever the term must is used, federal or state laws exist that require all 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organizations to conform to that practice. These requirements are denoted with NE (Nebraska state law), IA (Iowa state law) or US (federal law).

The term should means that the practice is not required by law, but is generally recommended depending upon the nature, resources, and lifecycle stage of the nonprofit organization.

In this document the terms charitable organization and nonprofit organization are used interchangeably to refer to nonprofit organizations that are tax-exempt under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Capacity refers to activities that strengthen a nonprofit organization’s infrastructure and governance in order to more effectively and efficiently fulfill its mission. Many factors affect capacity including the lifecycle stage of the organization, a sudden increase or decrease in funding, skill level of staff, changes to staff or governance, etc.

Accountability generally refers to an organization’s ability to answer questions regarding appropriate expenditure of funds and/or service impacts and outcomes that demonstrate progress toward its mission.

Legal Considerations

All nonprofit organizations operating in the states of Nebraska and Iowa should be aware of and in compliance with all legal requirements pertaining to nonprofit management, reporting, and governance.

Visit the following websites for a summary of applicable laws, links to helpful resources, and downloadable forms:


Guidelines & Principles for Nonprofit Excellence in Nebraska & Iowa provided by the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands (NAM) has been made available for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to provide legal, financial, accounting, or tax advice and should not be relied upon in that manner. We suggest hiring an attorney, accountant, and/or financial advisor to answer any financial or legal questions. NAM is not responsible for any direct, indirect, incidental, consequential or any other damages arising out of or in connection with the use of this document or in reliance on the information available through it. This includes any personal injury, business interruption, loss of use, lost data, lost profits or any other pecuniary loss, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortuous action, even if NAM has been informed of the possibility.


© 2014 Nonprofit Association of the Midlands. This work is adapted with permission from Principles and Practices for Nonprofit Excellence © 2010 Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and also adapted with permission of the Michigan Nonprofit Association ©2008. All rights reserved by their respective copyright holders.

Guidelines & Principles for Nonprofit Excellence in Nebraska & Iowa has been generously supported by the Fund for Omaha through the Omaha Community Foundation. The Nonprofit Association of the Midlands extends its deep gratitude to Colorado Nonprofit Association, Michigan Nonprofit Association, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, and Montana Nonprofit Association for their input and generosity in the constant evolution and enhancement of this resource.