8 reasons why guiding principles and best practices matter

By: Jessica Munday, Cloud 9 Co-Founder & Partner

Jessica is passionate about this topic and was an advisor with Together SC to author several editions of South Carolina’s Guiding Principles and Best Practices for Nonprofits.

If systems set you free, following guiding principles and best practices gives you the framework and guardrails to operate so you can get those systems in place. This framework reduces ambiguity and increases efficiency, allowing leaders to focus on strategic objectives rather than getting bogged down by day-to-day uncertainties. Dozens of statewide nonprofit associations have defined guiding principles and best practices. These have been published in most cases and are available for download with a quick Google search. Additionally, the publications have been curated by experts and thought leaders in each field after an intensive review and analysis.

At Cloud 9, one of our values is success, which is guided by integrity. For that reason, it’s important that when we advise our clients, we reference tried and true practices that produce the highest results.

Here are our top eight reasons nonprofit leaders should embrace them.

  1. Guiding principles ensure that every decision and action aligns with the nonprofit’s mission, maintaining focus and preventing mission drift.
  2. Best practices provide a roadmap for consistent behavior and decision-making, crucial for building trust with stakeholders, including donors, volunteers, and the communities they serve.
  3. Adherence to recognized best practices establishes credibility with external entities, such as potential funders, partners, and regulatory bodies.
  4. Clear guiding principles are a compass for leaders, helping them make informed and ethical decisions even in complex or unprecedented situations.
  5. By following best practices, nonprofits can streamline processes and utilize resources more effectively, avoiding wasting valuable time and money.
  6. When stakeholders see that an organization is committed to high standards of operation, it enhances their confidence and support for the organization.
  7. A strong foundation of principles and practices allows an organization to adapt to change and face challenges with resilience, maintaining stability in times of uncertainty.
  8. Embracing these principles promotes a strong organizational culture that prioritizes ethical behavior, inclusivity, and accountability, which is attractive to employees and volunteers.


Within the nonprofit sector, adopting guiding principles and best practices, which typically fall within these categories, helps to share the strategic direction and daily operations. In turn, your impact is stronger and morale is higher.

  • Governance: This includes the roles and responsibilities of the board of directors, conflict of interest policies, board composition and diversity, and the board’s role in strategic planning.
  • Ethics and Transparency: Standards related to ethical practices, reporting and communications transparency, and stakeholder accountability.
  • Financial Management: Principles surrounding financial accountability, budgeting, financial reporting, audits, and internal controls.
  • Fundraising: Best practices for ethical fundraising, donor relations and privacy, grant writing, and stewardship of funds.
  • Program Development and Evaluation: Creating effective programs that align with the mission, evaluating program outcomes, and using data for continuous improvement.
  • Human Resources: Guidelines for volunteer and staff management, including recruitment, retention, development, and diversity and inclusion policies.
  • Marketing and Communications: Strategies for effectively communicating with the public and stakeholders, branding, and public relations.
  • Legal Compliance: Adhering to all applicable laws and regulations, including employment, lobbying, and charitable solicitations.
  • Risk Management: Identifying, assessing, and managing risks that could impact the organization’s people, finances, or reputation.
  • Information Technology: Managing and securing data, using technology to improve efficiency, and staying current with technological advancements.
  • Collaboration and Partnerships: How the organization works with other entities, including partnership development, coalition building, and collaborative programming.
  • Advocacy: Engaging in policy advocacy and lobbying in a manner that is consistent with the organization’s mission and legal restrictions.


Incorporating guiding principles and best practices into the fabric of a nonprofit can lead to long-term success and a stronger impact in achieving the organization’s goals. Nonprofit leaders who understand and implement these core concepts can navigate their organizations toward a sustainable and impactful future. Reach out to Cloud 9 today if you are interested in taking a closer look at how your organization performs in these categories. We can look at one, a few or all.