Reflections on the OANO Standards for Excellence – Part I

Like similar organizations across the country, the Ohio Association of Nonprofit Organizations hosts a class called the Standards for Excellence Series that helps organizations prepare for and achieve the Standards for Excellence Accreditation. As a member of OANO’s Council of Consultants, I decided to audit the class to make sure I knew all about these important Standards.  The indomitable Allison Black Cornelius of Blackfish Consulting is teaching our class.  Allison, who hails from Alabama, is folksy and direct, but boy does she know her stuff!  She sprinkles her words of wisdom around the meaty content of the class. Here are some reflections on just 3 gems she shared with us the first day.


A toxic personality can cripple an organization.


Can I get an Amen?  When Allison talked about this issue, I wanted so shout, “Hallelujah”! We’ve all seen it: that employee who is getting in the way of progress, who creates drama, and causes others to leave.  It seems like nonprofits specialize in these people.  It reminds me of something I learned years ago: we are not in the business of employing people, we are in the business of fulfilling our missions.  If someone with a toxic personality is in the way, they need to go!


Technology is not a tool – it drives strategy.


Wow.  How many organizations have you worked for where this was true?  None? It seems like in the nonprofit business we think that technology is just something we have to update every 10 years, and even then we do it grudgingly.  Allison believes in it so much she recommends every organization have a Chief Technology Officer.  How does your organization view technology?  As a tool or a strategy?


Speak to your board in terms of lines of business, not programs.


This is probably my favorite “Allisonism” so far.  Board members don’t have a background in nonprofit program development so trying to tell them about individual programs using acronyms and other lingo related to funding streams is only going to cause confusion. Instead, show a continuum of services for your clients, and use pictures and real-world language to help board members understand what you do.  So important!



Of course there’s so much more to share and I’ll bring you more in my next blog.  For more information about the Standards for Excellence visit