Any nonprofit with a 'Standards for Excellence' certification is considered the gold standard in the 503(c)(3) world; and it's an accolade that only the Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council can celebrate.

DCRAC, whose mission is to ensure fair and equal access to credit and capital for underserved populations in Delaware, was certified three years ago and marked its recertification at its annual community barbecue in Wilmington on Friday.

"The 'Standards for Excellence' program promotes operational and governance best practices, self-accountability and public transparency for nonprofits," said Chris Grundner. Grundner is president and CEO of DANA, Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement.

DANA is behind the statewide initiative, an offshoot of the nationally-recognized program out of the Standards for Excellence Institute. The Institute is dedicated to increasing the public's trust in the nonprofit sector. How it works is nonprofits must demonstrate excellence when it comes to things like mission and program, governing body, openness and fundraising, among others. 

In addition to building donor and volunteer trust, Grundner says the initiative streamlines nonprofits, helping them run as efficiently and effectively as possible; something, he says, that's critical to a nonprofit's long-term sustainability.

"Demand for services is up for all these organizations and the funding's down. And so how do you do more with less? You have to be efficient," he said.

Encouraging other nonprofits to pursue certification, DANA offers training to help them get up to snuff. Grundner estimates DANA will receive its certification in about 90 days, making it the second nonprofit in the state, behind DCRAC, to earn the endorsement. 

"I think [DCRAC Executive Director Rashmi Rangan] was a forward-thinking person who decided, 'I want to get ahead of this and put our name out there.' And she's a champion. She's a poster child for it, so three years later she's now been recertified and still is the only one in the state that actually did it," Grundner said, adding the 'Standards for Excellence' gives nonprofits an edge when competing for donations.

"Funders are looking for ways to distinguish organizations... I think if you talk to a funder, they'll tell you that they get four to five times as many requests for as many dollars as they have to give out. Well how do they start distinguishing a good organization from a great one?"

Stepping Stones turns one

On Friday, DCRAC also marked the one year anniversary of its community federal credit union, Stepping Stones. 

Located in Wilmington's Eastside neighborhood, the credit union provides low-income residents, frustrated with big banks, an opportunity to make their money work for them while rebuilding or establishing credit.

"This is a great day for DCRAC and we have a lot to celebrate," said Rangan. "Over the last year, we've pushed for fair lending at bank merger hearings, helped launch Stepping Stones Community Federal Credit Union, worked with other nonprofits to pass payday lending reform in Dover and obtained our 'Standards for Excellence' recertification."

To date, Stepping Stones boasts 160 members and $1 million in assets.