A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Nonprofit Network of Southwest Washington’s Nonprofit Excellence Awards presentation. The event recognized local nonprofit agencies and community partners for excellence.  I always welcome the opportunity to attend such events because I believe such gatherings give insight into the heart and soul of the local nonprofit community.  As I chatted with nonprofit leaders during the reception, there was an inspiring sense of social connection, a shared ambition for making a difference, and a commitment strengthening the health and welfare of Southwest Washington. As the last applause of the evening began to wind down the event, I was convinced that excellence is truly a value of nonprofits in the region. Congratulations to each of the finalist organizations and all who were nominated!

I was also struck by the elegance of the award categories.  To be honored with any of the awards would be admirable for an organization to achieve, but when the four award categories are aligned, they create the aspiration of nonprofit excellence in its truest form.  Consider the following categories where awards were given:

Excellence in Innovation was given to a nonprofit that demonstrated innovative internal or external innovative strategies or approaches designed to achieve improved performance or impact. I have written elsewhere that I believe that innovation (see here) is an important attribute of nonprofit organizations and for the Nonprofit Network to celebrate innovation is on the leading edge.  Whether the innovation involves improving process process, adapting to change or facilitating growth or even disrupting the “business as usual,” promoting innovation will result in a stronger nonprofit sector addressing compelling community needs.

Excellence in Governance is given to a nonprofit board demonstrating excellent practices in one or more of the primary nonprofit governance responsibilities of planning, financial and programmatic oversight, resource development, visibility, board development responsiveness to change.  As a core of my practice and writing is working with nonprofit boards (see here), I understand fully the challenges of developing strong boards focused on governance.  I also know that highlighting high performing boards can serve as role models and learning labs from which other nonprofit agencies can learn.

Excellence in Impact was given to a nonprofit providing a service or program that has demonstrable and measurable impact on the problem being addressed or the need being met. By highlighting an organization that excels in measuring impact, the Nonprofit Network is emphatically stating that results matter.  Without a doubt, in a resource-constrained environment, all nonprofits need to aspire to program accountability and evaluation  (see here).

Excellence in Corporate Community Support was given to a private sector business helping one or more nonprofits achieve greater sustainability. While this award is appropriately focused in a community leader, one cannot miss the two-directional concept of partnership between corporations seeking to be strong social citizens and nonprofits looking to create public-private partnerships.  As a community, we are stronger together.

A recent study exploring the relationship between civic engagement and economic resiliency concluded “the density and type of nonprofit organizations in a community, as well as its social cohesion, are important predictors of that community’s ability to withstand unemployment in a recession,” (see here).  My hunch is that, if you dug a bit deeper, you would find that the beyond density and type of nonprofits, the healthy functioning of nonprofits also contributes to the strength of the nonprofit ecosystem (see here).  By extension, I believe nonprofit agencies who concurrently think about  innovation, governance, impact, and community partnerships are clearly building foundations of health and excellence that contribute to a strong community.   So my applause for the Nonprofit Network of Southwest Washington continues, as does my applause to all of the region’s nonprofit organizations striving for excellence in meeting the needs of a wide range of social, cultural and other community needs.

As always, your thoughts are welcome.


Mark Fulop
Mark founded Facilitation & Process in 2009 to help organizations and communities bridge the gap between where they are today and where they want to be tomorrow. He’s led dozens of Portland nonprofits, government agencies and philanthropic organizations through complex change initiatives including strategic planning, revenue planning, board development, collaboration, and facilitation.