A big thank you to Peer Reviewer and Executive Director of Champions for Children, Inc. Amy Haile for this guest post!

Few nonprofit organizations are prepared for the transition of executive leadership that is coming and the impact it will have on their mission. 

Every time a nonprofit has a transition at the CEO level, this shift in leadership impacts the organization’s financial stability, strategic direction, and employee engagement. But a 2017 survey found that only 27% of nonprofit organizations have a succession plan. Knowing the impact of executive transition on the ability of the organization to maintain a focus on delivering services to meet its mission, the Council on Accreditation (COA) requires a succession plan as evidence for its Governance 5.04 Standard: to ensure continuity during transitions in leadership, the organization maintains succession planning procedures and a succession plan

As an Executive Director, COA Peer Reviewer, and a doctorate student of public health, I set out on a journey to seek solutions that would help nonprofit organizations bridge the gap to create and sustain their succession planning process.  For this study I interviewed 18 community-based nonprofit organization chief executives to gather insights into the barriers and solutions to succession planning.  

CEO interview results

One of the first observations emerging from the interviews was the shared belief that a nonprofit organization’s current CEO has a responsibility of putting the greater good of the organization and its mission in front of the needs of the individual. For example, there was conversation regarding the need for a resigning CEO to provide extended notice of no less than six months, with a year preferable and two years ideal. It was opined that this length of notice was required to sufficiently prepare the organization for the transition and not believed to be burdensome in the event of a CEO’s retirement. However, many interviewed CEOs noted this type of notice would be unlikely for a CEO seeking another position.  

There was universal agreement from the interviewed CEOs that succession planning is more than planning the replacement of the CEO position. It is about other key positions and building a leadership legacy with leader development within the organization. This theme is about being intentional and the CEO creating opportunities for new leaders to emerge within the organization as well as building external relationships beyond the CEO with the community of funders, partners, donors, as well as local, state, and national organizations. Leadership development comes outside the envelope of ‘management’ and ‘supervision.’ It is about creating and encouraging employees to accept stretch assignments. Several interviewed CEOs saw these types of project-based assignments as a mechanism to create bridges for more employees to be visible within the organization as emerging leaders and an opportunity to address equity. 

A guidebook for best practices

This study culminated in the creation of a ‘Guidebook to Succession Planning for Nonprofit Organizations: A quick start framework to start and sustain succession planning.’  This guidebook contains many of the suggested elements outlined in Governance 5.04, such as: 

  1. Identifying the critical positions within the organization and their key leadership and management functions. 
  2. Describing under what conditions interim authority can be delegated for those positions, including unexpected leadership disruptions and planned departures, and the limitations of that authority. 
  3. Outlining to whom various leadership and management functions will be delegated. 
  4. Delineating the governing body and staff responsibilities as they relate to transition planning. 
  5. Creating a plan for how succession planning and leadership transitions will be communicated to the governing body, staff, and other relevant stakeholders; and 
  6. Implementing mechanics that assess readiness to assume leadership positions and for providing training, mentorship, and other leadership development opportunities to support readiness. 

Reviewed by nonprofit leaders, this Guidebook describes succession planning as an iterative process and for leaders to expect the plan to mature with reflection and use. To help begin a pathway forward, the guidebook establishes a three-phase approach: start with emergency planning, adopt a framework for leader development, and establish regular conversations regarding succession planning with organization leadership- including the concept of ‘legacy planning’.

The Guidebook provides a brief background with succession planning based on a thorough literature review, guiding principles based on the themes from this research project, and strategies on how to make the plan work. Woven throughout the guidebook are links and titles of other tools, further learning opportunities, and templates to ease the journey. Finally, the guidebook concludes with a sample plan.

Through a partnership with the Nonprofit Leadership Center (nlctb.org), this Guidebook is included in their Resource page and is available via a PDF downloaded file here.


Boardsource. (2017). Leading with intent: 2017 national index of nonprofit board practices [PDF file]. Retrieved June 22, 2019, from https://leadingwithintent.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/LWI-2017.pdf?&__hstc=98438528.6d8781303100e141f38fe0ae44711c9b.1561084719570.1561084719570.1561235983673.2&__hssc=98438528.1.1561235983673&__hsfp=4273204199   

Froelich, K., McKee, G., & Rathge, R. (2011). Succession planning in nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit Management & Leadership, 22(1), 3–20. https://doi.org/10.1002/nml.20037’ 

Giambatista, R. C., Rowe, W. G., & Riaz, S. (2005). Nothing succeeds like succession: A critical review of leader succession literature since 1994. The Leadership Quarterly, 16(6), 963–991. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2005.09.005 

Schepker, D. J., Kim, Y., Patel, P. C., Thatcher, S. M. B., & Campion, M. C. (2017). CEO succession, strategic change, and post-succession performance: A meta-analysis. The Leadership Quarterly, 28(6), 701–720. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2017.03.001 

Amy Haile

Amy Haile is the Executive Director of Champions for Children, Inc., the Tampa Bay region’s leading agency focused on the prevention of child abuse and neglect, which is accomplished through evidence-based family education programs that promote positive parenting and child development. Amy blends 30 years of private and public service experience and is completing a Doctor of Public Health degree from the University of South Florida, where she has focused her research on succession planning in nonprofit organizations. Her role as a Peer Reviewer allows her to witness how other family-serving organizations are innovating and implementing best practices across the country.

As we head into winter with the pandemic still raging, we wish our entire COA community health and safety. We know that many of our organizations provide essential services and have quickly implemented practices to reduce the spread of COVID-19. On behalf of the staff and board of COA, thank you for your continued service to your communities. We are inspired by your dedication and flexibility in this extremely difficult and ever-changing environment.

As organizations shift into and out of in-person work, the decision to move one way or the other is made even more challenging by conflicting guidance, mandates that vary across communities, and the unique challenges posed by virtual service delivery.  Our hope is that this roundup of guidance from the field will help you make better informed decisions about how or if to return to conducting in-person work. We also hope that you’ll add your feedback and tips in the comments section to share your experiences and help our readers continue to adapt to this challenging time.

US Government Resources

Website of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA)

From overview information to daily tips and updates, OHSA has an enormous amount of information about in-person work in the time of COVID-19. Find the latest guidance on hazard recognition, COVID-19 standards, medical information, and tips on control and prevention, as well as a number of other resources. Some materials are available in Spanish as well as English.

Visit the site here.

Website of OHSA’s Whistleblower Protection Program

This is the place to go to report unsafe working conditions, including unsafe conditions as they relate to COVID-19. You can also find information on the applicable law, COVID-19, how to create an anti-retaliation environment at your organization, and what to expect during a whistleblower investigation.

Visit the site here.

US Department of Labor COVID-19 Webpage

This site hosts a number of practical, nuts-and-bolts resources around workplace safety; wages, hours, and leave; unemployment insurance; and more, all as they relate to COVID-19. You will also find guidance on preventing the coronavirus at work, how to return to work during the pandemic, and how to keep the workplace safe until we can get a vaccine.

Workplace safety information is available in a number of languages, including Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Burmese, Chin, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Croatian, French, French Creole, Hmong, Korean, Kunama, Nepali, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese.

Visit the site here.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Website

This site is especially useful as a resource for everything PPE, or Personal Protective Equipment. They have general tips on keeping staff safe, as well as information on the status of PPE supplies, what respirators are testing best, and crisis strategies on what to do if PPE runs low–a situation we saw at the beginning of the pandemic. There is also specific advice and strategies around navigating COVID-19 in schools, as well as how to reduce the risk of violence when having to confront clients who refuse to wear a mask or practice social distancing.

Visit the site here.

Center for Disease Control (CDC) Coronavirus Website

Of course, no government resource list would be complete without including all of the information available from the CDC. Here you will find helpful tips about wearing masks and which kinds of masks are most useful; the latest on COVID-19 symptoms and testing; the latest data and trends on cases; guidelines around quarantining and travel; and business-specific guidance and communication resources. Assistance in multiple languages is here as well.

Visit the site here.

Other resources

Returning to a Pre-Pandemic Workplace Resource Roundup from the Council on Nonprofits

The Council on Nonprofits walks through the factors an organization must weigh before returning to in-person work, and then provides their own list of resources for helping you with that decision. Some of our favorites include:

Find their full list of resources here.

Reopening our Workspaces: A Playbook from Leading Edge

This playbook from the Leading Edge Alliance for Excellence in Jewish Leadership also takes on the considerations around returning to in-person work (or not) from a philosophical point of view. It walks through the many things an organization must weigh, including what impact their decisions will have on diversity, equity, and inclusion; team culture; organization values; and the opportunity that COVID-19 provides us all to “re-dream” what we could be doing.

The playbook contains decision trees to help leadership teams make careful, informed decisions about next steps in the face of the pandemic, as well as a wealth of practical tips and considerations on transitioning back to in-person work. The back half includes day-by-day checklists to help ease that transition.

Find the PDF of the playbook here.

HR Forms and Blog Posts from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

SHRM tackles the thorny HR issues that COVID-19 can surface and that staff may experience as they come into and out of the workplace. Their Coronavirus Resource page hosts back-to-work checklists, screening and notice forms, FAQs, COVID-19 culture quizzes, and more. Their blog posts offer troubleshooting advice on an array of issues such as social distancing, contact-tracing, and payroll. They also have articles that will help keep you up-to-date on what other companies’ HR departments are doing, providing inspiration and insight that might help your own organization.

Visit their Resource Page here. For more from SHRM, check out their helpful list of other reliable resources for workplace issues related to the coronavirus.

COVID-19 Return to Work Playbook from Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente’s all-in-one, clickable playbook offers tips on everything from the details of modifying workplace safety plans and COVID-19 screening to big-picture concerns such as the impact of the virus on the social drivers of health and emotional well-being. It even includes a section on specific guidelines for those who work in public services, which will be of special interest to the COA community.

Visit the playbook here.

What other resources have you seen or used that have been helpful? What re-opening tips and experiences would be helpful to other organizations like yours? Please share them in the comments below! Remember that you can always keep up-to-date on COA’s operational status during the pandemic on our COVID-19 Resources Page here

We at COA love what we do because we are passionate about promoting practices that will serve the greater good. Equity, diversity, and inclusion (or, as someone at COA recently put it, “belonging”) are critical components of that. We cannot truly do good work and better our communities if we are not also working to ensure that every community member can be safe, belong, and access equal opportunity.  

The road to fully realized equity, diversity, and inclusion is constant and requires no small amount of collaboration and introspection. If your organization is committed to embedding these efforts in every facet of your work, you might be at a loss of where to begin. Don’t stress! We’ve pulled together some of the resources we’ve drawn best practice inspiration from to help get you started.  This list captures a fraction of the information available out there, so we encourage you to continue your learning.

Do you have a resource to recommend? Post in the comments below!

Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Matter for Nonprofits—This goes through not only the “how” of implementing a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion plan, but also the “why” (whether your organization is a nonprofit or not). It provides several tools for embedding EDI into work at all levels of an organization.

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Harvard Implicit Association Test—This test is included in the article above, but it’s worth highlighting for itself. We cannot honestly approach this work without first grappling with any biases we ourselves may hold. This simple test is meant to help individuals recognize their own implicit bias.

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The MSW@USC Diversity Toolkit—A Guide to Discussing Identity, Power, and Privilege—Looking for specific exercises that you can conduct with your team? The University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work has created several to help you engage your team in this work.

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Racial Equity Resource Guide Glossary—In order to facilitate communication and avoid misunderstandings around sensitive issues, it’s important that everyone is using the same language. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has pulled together a glossary to help you and your team get on the same page.

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The Alliance Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion resources, webinars, and group discussion forums—One of COA’s founding organizations and close partner, The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, has a diverse spread of resources to help organizations work toward a just, fair, and inclusive society that contributes to everyone’s well-being. From tools to places for conversation, you’ll find it here.

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What’s the Difference Between Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity?— Though this General Assembly blog post is geared toward tech companies, its content applies to everyone. In it you’ll find a good breakdown of the differences between diversity, inclusion, and equity and how they’re related. There are also a few basic exercises that may be helpful for individuals to do on their own or with colleagues to further clarify the definition of each.  

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Diversity, equity, and inclusion consultants share a script to respond to racist microaggressions at work so you know exactly what to say in the moment—This article from Business Insider could be helpful particularly for staff of color, because it talks about how to approach and respond to microaggressions. It’s also helpful to organizations for learning about microaggressions and how they may or may not be perpetuated in the workplace.

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Urgently Looking for Anti-Racism Training for Your Company? Start Here.—This Medium article gives a blunt examination of where diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at an organization often stand, which can provide a kick in the pants to get things started. It offers a nice set of questions and points to consider when engaging in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

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11 Books To Read If You Want To Be A More Inclusive Leader—This post from Forbes provides a great roundup of books that take on different aspects of EDI work. Each helps leaders (or aspiring leaders) to enhance “soft” skills and tackle implicit or unconscious biases to become more inclusive. It’s a great place to dive deeper into specific areas of interest and is sure to provide great food for thought for professional development work or even staff book clubs.

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Racial Equity Tools Library —Hungry for more resources than are offered here? This is a great database of information and tools to support individuals and organizations working to achieve racial equity.  This library is the product of a collaboration between several social policy focused national organizations, it offers tools, research, tips, curricula and data for anyone to use and learn from. Here you will find resources about justice at every level – in systems, organizations, communities and the culture at large.

What resources (publications, writers, researchers, etc.) have been helpful to you or your organization in promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion? Share them in the comments below!

2020 has been a year of unexpected challenges for many organizations, communities, and individuals.  One segment of the population that has been highly impacted by the challenges of the current pandemic is the older generation in the US.  We know this pandemic has impacted this group because not only are they at “high-risk” for more severe medical outcomes if they become ill, but also older adults, specifically discussed here grandparents in caregiving roles and their multi-generational families, have been impacted by the economic and social challenges we are facing in unique ways.  In addition to the generational complexities, we know the wide disparities in health outcomes associated with race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic factors intersect with age to create a higher risk for some individuals and families than others.  In light of Healthy Aging Month in September, we highlight ways in which many individuals in this demographic who often function as formal or informal caregivers have been challenged this year and ways in which we can hope to provide support.

Situational snapshot

We know that the pandemic has had a significant impact on families and specifically multi-generational relationships and households. These households often have members that are considered high-risk, including older individuals.  In cases where grandparents had been formally or informally providing critical support to their children and grandchildren, these months have brought unique challenges and difficult choices.

To get a sense of the scope, over seven million children in the United States live in households headed by grandparents or other relatives. Before the pandemic, over 2.5 million grandparents reported that they were responsible for their grandchildren’s needs. In addition, one out of four children under 5 years old are looked after by grandparents while parents attend work or school.  Out of these grandparent caregivers, one-fifth (21%) live at or below the poverty level. We’ve written about the relationship between the child welfare system and the opioid epidemic in the past, and the strain this has put on the already taxed system as well as individual caregivers.  As might be expected, research from the Census Bureau has also found a correlation between the rise in the opioid crisis and the number of grandparents raising grandchildren.

In recent months, many of these grandparent caregiving roles have shifted significantly. Some families have had to rely on extended family networks, often including grandparents, for caregiving, with school and childcare settings closed for months.  Those that were already providing care have often taken on more challenging roles as the caregiving hours expand from after-school and homework help to full-day caregiving responsibilities, with duties of not only supervision but also homeschooling. Other families have not been able to rely on those supports they counted on previously, out of caution or concern about exposure for those individuals categorized as high-risk.   With that, some grandparents have been isolated from family members, sometimes for months at a time.  The balance of months of trying to achieve social distancing, or at least physical distancing, while being mindful of the significant impact of isolation on mental health has been something that each family has had to navigate as well.  And with back-to-school season upon us, families face the uncertainties of a new school year ahead, trying to balance the challenges and competing needs of the well-being of all family members, with no easy answers. 

It’s critical to note also that this crisis has not impacted all older adults in the same way, but has exacerbated many existing systems of inequality in our society along the lines of age, race, and socioeconomic status.  Not everyone is at equal risk.  The strain that this pandemic has put on older adults and families already struggling with poverty, access to resources, childcare, and opportunity has been exacerbated this year as well.  

What we can do

We know that the challenges are great and, in many ways, unprecedented. Many individuals and organizations have sprung into action, and many may still be asking what they can do.  At an individual level, Generations United has developed a comprehensive COVID-19 Fact Sheet for Grandfamilies and Multigenerational Families that contains relevant resources for grandparents and children, including crisis hotlines, COVID-19 information, and assistance program information.

In response to this crisis, many social service organizations have drastically and rapidly shifted their service delivery in many ways that may have previously been unimaginable. While the social service sector is already taxed in so many ways, organizations have been assisting by repositioning themselves and adapting their service models to support caregivers and families in new ways, including supply assistance, as in the case described here.  Organizations have also in many cases quickly adjusted their service delivery models to provide a higher level of virtual support for caregivers through the use of technology (friendly reminder, COA has standards for that!).

At a macro level, The Center for the Study of Social Policy has published this informative brief that discusses challenges faced by a range of kinship caregivers who may need supports during the pandemic. It offers recommendations for steps we can take to address these challenges at a policy level. 

We know there are many others providing support and resources to those in need.  How has your organization or community responded?  What other resources have you found helpful or are you seeking as an individual or provider to support the well-being of this population? For Healthy Aging Month and Back-to-School season, please share in the comments below as we continue to seek ways to partner with the human and social service community to address these challenging circumstances.

A big thank you to Alternative Family Services (AFS) for this guest post!

Did you read the earlier COA post on “6 Resources for potential foster parents” and are looking for more information and insights? Then you’ve come to the right place. Whether you want to know more about how to foster a child or you’re more interested in adoption, keep reading below for more.


Additional federal government resources

In addition to The Child Welfare Information Gateway, there are other great sources of information direct from the federal government. For example, USA.gov has multiple resources about foster care, adoption and other related fields.

State and county resources

Not only does foster care vary by state, but it also varies by county or parish and even sometimes by municipality. These are great resources, as they can let you know specifically what you’ll need to become a licensed and approved foster home.

In California, where we here at AFS are based, state-level information usually comes from the California Department of Social Services. And, most counties in the state, such as San Francisco County, will have their own departments dedicated to child welfare broadly and foster care specifically. Seeking out information local to you is very important and will make your journey towards fostering a youth easier.

Interested in staying up to date on the newest laws being considered at the state level? The National Conference of State Legislatures is a good place to start.

Private organizations

In the foster care space, there are numerable nonprofits across the country. Whether they’re a foster family agency like AFS or a more philanthropic organization like the Annie E Casey Foundation, nonprofits can have a wealth of knowledge and resources to take advantage of both before and after you’re certified to foster children.

News sources

In the world of foster care, it’s important to stay current on industry news. As a Resource Parent, it’s key to stay on top of any changes in legislation and always be aware of best practices. Consider setting up a Google News alert, and regularly check sources like the Chronicle of Social Change and your local news outlets.


Dedicated private adoption resources

In addition to the many great resources in the last COA post, here are some other great sources of information and insights: AdoptUSKids, adoption.org, the Center for Parent Information and Resources, the Dave Thomas Foundation, the North American Council on Adoptable Children and many others.

Social media

Talking to someone who’s been through the adoption process can be helpful and reassuring — in this way, social media can be great. There are active communities of parents who have adopted children on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter ready to provide you with inspiration, guidance, ideas and even just a sympathetic ear.

But, it’s important to take information from social media with a grain of salt, especially from individuals claiming to be experts. It’s important to be cautious of misinformation. When in doubt, seek out trustworthy sources like COA-certified nonprofits to answer your questions.

A local attorney

Adoption impacts your taxes, estate planning and so much more. Make sure everything is in order by working with legal help.

What other fostering and adoption resources do you use? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!

The views, information and opinions expressed herein are those of the author; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Council on Accreditation (COA). COA invites guest authors to contribute to the COA blog due to COA’s confidence in their knowledge on the subject matter and their expertise in their chosen field.

Alternative Family Services Logo

Alternative Family Services

Founded in 1978, Alternative Family Services (AFS) provides thoughtful, informed care, adoption and mental health services to foster children and youth throughout Northern California. The mission of Alternative Family Services is to support vulnerable children and families in need of stability, safety and wellbeing in their communities.

AFS, a COA-certified foster family agency, currently serves the diverse and varied needs of 1,500 foster youth, plus their biological and foster families, in the San Francisco Bay Area and Greater Sacramento Regions. Services provided by AFS include therapeutic foster care, Intensive Services Foster Care, support for foster children with developmental disabilities, therapeutic visitation, community-based mental health services, transitional housing support, independent life skills training, and much more.

Since we began taking huge societal steps to flatten the curve and address our current public health crisis, my inbox has been flooded with emails from what seems like every retailer and  restaurant I have ever visited. Are they reaching out to alert me of the latest sales or entice me with a great deal? No. These businesses are reaching out to inform me about their individual response to the spread of COVID-19. These communications have included how they are adhering to state-specific closure orders, enhancing their hygienic practices, supporting the health and safety of staff, and pretty much anything related to changes brought on by measures to combat the spread of COVID-19.  

Social service providing organizations, whether classified as essential or nonessential during this time, are no different in that they must strive to communicate with their stakeholders about how they are addressing COVID-19 as an organization. Across a single social service program, stakeholders can include clients, family members of clients, staff, volunteers, community members, funders, and board members. All of these stakeholders can be impacted in different ways by your COVID-19 response measures. Communicating clearly and specifically to individual groups of stakeholders will show them that your organization is taking the crisis and its role in protecting the community seriously.  

COA has put together a list of references to assist your organization in navigating communication with your stakeholders during this time. We’ve organized the information below by:  

Our Interpretation blog is meant, first and foremost, to be a resource for the COA community. We are continually evolving its content to meet the needs of our COA network. If you have a resource, article, or tool that you’d like to see posted, we’d love to hear from you! Reach out to us by email at PublicPolicy@coanet.org.    

Developing a communication strategy

The abrupt transitions required by COVID-19 has forced for-profit and nonprofits alike to rapidly address a myriad of issues, including communication with their stakeholders. Taking the time to develop a planned communication approach will ensure there is continuity and comprehensive information in your communications and will likely prevent time spent later answering questions. Harvard Business Review  has published some helpful tips in developing your communication approach, beginning with the creation of the standing Pandemic Leadership Team. They have also examined the emergency communication responses of companies that have experienced crises previously.  

Staff outreach

Whether your agency staff are considered essential or non-essential workers, it’s important to understand that they are impacted both professionally and personally by this crisis. Communications to staff should be sensitive to this by providing clear, concise, and accurate information. In addition, ensure staff are given a supportive and facilitative environment to ask questions and seek clarification. Workers are dealing with a myriad of concerns as a result of COVID-19. They’ll expect clear information regarding everything from individual health insurance coverage to expectations in work-from-home policies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created tools to assist employers in communicating about COVID-19 with their staff.  In addition, Forbes has put together a survival guide to caring for staff in a remote environment that can help you craft internal communications during this time. How you communicate with staff during this crisis will dictate the office culture when you return.  

Funding, media, and advocacy outreach

Addressing the global public health crisis has led to an unprecedented global financial crisis. Legislators at the state and federal level are working hard to determine how best to support the economy while maintaining needed social distancing precautions.

The first federal stimulus package, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, provided some of the financial aid needed by businesses and individuals. It is expected to be followed up with subsequent stimulus bills to continue providing meaningful aid. This means there will be additional opportunities for service providing agencies to advocate for inclusion in future relief packages. It is important that agencies are using any and all tools and connections they have to advocate for their stakeholders and raise awareness of the importance of their specific services in their community.  

The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities (also known as the Alliance) has created a toolkit for their network to raise awareness about the importance of community-based human services organizations, which become even more vital in times of crisis. To also assist you in raising critical funds, this toolkit includes a national fundraising campaign with graphics and sample posts, as well as media outreach templates. Use these tools to leverage your visibility as part of the national Alliance network and raise awareness for your specific community impact and financial needs. 


Communicating accurate and helpful information is the duty of all organizations addressing COVID-19 in their community. On-site, this can mean having materials available to service recipients. The CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) have published a number of free resources for all businesses to use, including fact sheets, guidance, videos, and posters. By using the latest materials published by the CDC, you will ensure the information you are communicating is in accordance with current public health announcements and guidance. In addition, check your state’s public health and human service department’s departments websites to see if materials specific to your state are available to you. Below are links to current communication tools and resources available for use and distribution.  

Guidance on reducing stigma

Stigma affects the emotional and mental health of those that the stigma is directed against.  Stopping stigma is an important part of making communities and community members resilient during public health emergencies. Even if we are not personally involved with the stigmatized groups, it’s important to stay vigilant and address it when issues arise.  

We hope you find these resources useful! Check out our other posts on COVID-19—COVID-19 Resources (Extended Version) and Preparing for Response to COVID-19,—for additional information.  

What other helpful resources for managing communication during the COVID-19 outbreak have you seen? Share yours in the comments below! 

Protect your clients, protect your staff, protect your organization, protect your community.

As the virus that causes COVID-19 continues to have a significant impact on our lives, accredited and in-process organizations have asked us how the standards can help them be ready and respond.  In this post we will make a few big-picture recommendations about where to start with your preparations, then point out the key standards that might inform your response.

A few quick recommendations

Before we look at specific standards, we have a few recommendations.  First, pull your senior staff and members of your governing body together to think about what your organization needs to do be prepared for and respond to the virus.  We strongly recommend that you review the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Administrators and Leaders of Community- and Faith-Based Organizations to Plan, Prepare, and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).  This resource is the single best resource we have seen to help you prepare your organization for the inevitable arrival of the coronavirus in your community.  The guidance provided is specific and clear and is continually updated as new information emerges.

Second, review and update your emergency preparedness plan and other relevant polices and procedures.  COA has several standards that address key preparedness and response issues that accredited organizations will already have in place.  These fall under the broad standards categories of human resources management, safety and security, and emergency preparedness.  More about these below.

With regard to service delivery: Depending on the types of services you provide and the populations you serve, you are very likely to get multiple communications from federal, state, and county oversight entities, as well as others with specific directives and/or guidance that will directly effect your work at the program level.  You will want to merge these varying sources of guidance– some of these will be mandatory–into a form that staff can understand and follow. 

It is important also to make this information easily accessible. One organization that serves the homeless mentally ill in upstate New York has been receiving updated virus-related directives from multiple sources almost every other day.  Every time one of these is received, the CEO merges the new information into updated procedures and then walks around and replaces the old documents, which have been posted all over the facility, with the newest version.  Staff are very busy and aren’t always able to stop what they are doing and check their email to see if new updates have been made to the online procedure manual.  So put such critical information right in front of them.

Third, communicate clearly and openly with the people you serve, your staff, and the public.  The situation in your locale may be changing quickly.  Your clients and staff will be looking to you for guidance.  Wild Apricot has a very good blog entry titled How to Create a Crisis Communications Plan for Your Nonprofit that you may find useful.

Communication also includes ensuring that staff know who to go to for answers in rapidly evolving situations.  Anticipate that some staff who have decision making authority may become sick. Plan for that eventuality, and make sure that staff know who to go to in their place. This is especially important in larger, multiservice organizations who may provide a variety of different services in multiple locations.

Now lets take a look at some of the key COA standards.  Currently accredited organizations will have policies and procedures related to these standards already in place.  For these organizations, your task it to review these and update them where necessary. 

Review and update your emergency response plan and procedures

Pull out your emergency response plan and procedures (ASE 6.01, ASE 6.02, ASE 6.03) and review them with COVID-19 in mind.  If you are like many other organizations, you may not have anticipated a fast-moving pandemic when your plan was developed.  Emergency response plans and procedures for multiservice organizations and those providing services at different sites may need to include location-specific guidance for each program site. 

Things to consider:

Review and update safety and security measures

The standards in ASE 5: Safety and Security address the safety and security of your staff and persons served at your program and administrative sites.  Review your most recent safety assessment and any measures that were implemented to address identified issues.  Then conduct a new COVID-19 assessment if time permits. 

Things to consider:

Review and update human resource management policies

By the time you read this, many of you will already be under restrictions mandating the closure of all non-essential businesses.  Although most of our accredited organizations will be not be subject to those restrictions, most have staff that do not necessarily need to be on-site to perform their jobs.  Many of you are scrambling to put human resource policies in place to reflect this new reality.  The standard HR 3.02 broadly addresses what may go into an HR policies and procedure manual.

Things to consider:

Again, the CDC has good, comprehensive, practical guidance for employers:  Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Review and update technology and information security for remote working

Remote working is as much a technological issue as it is a human resources management issue.  The policies and procedures required for RPM 4: Technology and Information Management, and RPM 5: Security of Information should be reviewed and updated if you will be requiring some of your staff to work at home. 

Things to consider:

Review and update policies and procedures for technology-based service delivery

The coronavirus has rapidly pushed technology-based service delivery from the periphery to becoming a core intervention modality for many kinds of social and human services.  If you are already employing technology-based interventions, take this time to review new rules and guidance coming for the federal government on its use.  Then review the standards in PRG 4: Technology-based Service Delivery to ensure that your current practices continue to meet the requirements of the standards. 

If you are thinking about employing technology-based interventions for the first time, you need to understand that there are many important factors to consider, including confidentially, security, data collection and  transmission, acceptable technologies, licensure, how to work with clients through electronic means, and more.  A review of the standards in PRG 4 will give you a frame of reference for what such services look like.

We hope this post helps to bring some of the most important questions into focus for you as you prepare for the coronavirus.  The function of accreditation is to build organization’s capacity and resilience through a careful and thorough review of its administration and service-delivery practices.  It does this by having you look at what you are doing and how you are doing it, thinking about how you can do things better, and, finally looking ahead so you can be ready for what is coming, both seen and unforeseen. 

Be safe.

In light of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, we wanted to highlight some of the resources that we provide on our website, and to provide additional ones, as well. Stay up-to-date on everything happening with COA during the pandemic here.

No matter what role you occupy in the social service delivery continuum, chances are that precautions in the face of COVID-19 have drastically changed the way you work in just a few short weeks. This rapid transition in our lifestyles has led to a deluge of information about how to cope and behave during this time, both personally and professionally. COA has put together a list of references to assist you and your colleagues in navigating all of this news and guidance. We’ve organized the information below by topic: 

The Interpretation blog is meant, first and foremost, to be a resource for the COA community. We are continually evolving our blog content to meet the needs of our COA network. If you have a resource, article, or tool that you’d like to see posted, we’d love to hear from you! Reach out to us by email at PublicPolicy@coanet.org.

General guidance from government agencies

It’s important to educate yourself on and follow the guidance of international, national, and local health organizations. The following organizations maintain a collection of resources and information on the spread of COVID-19. COA recommends locating the health agency of your state or territory to find information that is specific to your local community. In addition, make sure that you are signing up for available subscription/distribution lists, where information may be disseminated on an ongoing basis. 

Guidance for child welfare providers

The US Children’s Bureau shared this letter with the agencies they oversee the in child welfare system. In addition to this letter, the Children’s Bureau is maintaining this webpage with resources related to COVID-19.

Organizations leading the field in child welfare practice and policy have also created resources to assist agencies in navigating service delivery during this time: 

In addition, The Chronicle of Social Change (now The Imprint) has redirected their reporting to focus on COVID-19 and have posted a number of stories on developments in the child welfare space. We recommend starting with Coronavirus: What Child Welfare Systems Need to Think About.

Guidance for childcare providers

Childcare providers have been deemed essential workers across many regions, even areas with the strictest social distancing regulations in place. This is because we need to ensure childcare is accessible to other essential workers during this time.

Guidance for businesses and employers

There is no doubt that concerns about and restrictions around COVID-19 are impacting how businesses are run. We’ve seen some guidance on how to bear out these changes here:

Guidance for healthcare professionals

Healthcare facilities are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Find resources to help manage resources and protect yourself and your staff below.

Guidance for community organizations

Community-based organizations will be integral to ensuring the infrastructure of community needs are able to be met during this time. Fortunately, there are COVID-19 tools available for organizations that serve vulnerable populations:

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans also has resources specific to each type of services provider they oversee:

Guidance on reducing stigma

Stigma affects the emotional and mental health of those that the stigma is directed against. Stopping stigma is an important part of making communities and community members resilient during public health emergencies. Even if we are not personally involved with the stigmatized groups, our voice can have an impact.

What other helpful resources for managing the COVID-19 outbreak have you seen? Share yours in the comments below.

So, you’ve been designated by your organization as the Primary Contact—the point person for communicating with the Council on Accreditation (COA) and spearheading the accreditation process. Maybe you’re feeling a little overwhelmed; you might not be sure about the best way to get the job done. Fear not! We’re here to help with tips on how to make the process as smooth as possible, whether this is your first time managing the accreditation process or your fifth.

1) Get organized

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If we were to create a job description for the Primary Contact role, strong organizational skills would be first on the list of required traits. You need to be able to organize, prioritize, and project manage. This includes assessing the scope of the work, identifying available/necessary resources, and planning for the completion of tasks while working towards deadlines.

There are a lot of moving parts during the accreditation process, so it is critical to stay on top of due dates and important notifications from COA. You also need to make sure that these are communicated within your organization, and that you clearly outline expectations regarding the workload and workplan for other staff to maintain efficiency.

Sound like a lot? Don’t worry! We have some resources that can help those efforts. Here are a few to get you started:

2)  Communicate clearly and often

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The accreditation process centers around good internal and external communication.

From an external standpoint, as the Primary Contact you are responsible for overseeing all communications between your organization and COA. Whether it is over the phone or email, it is essential to keep your Accreditation Coordinator in the loop about any significant program updates or organizational changes.

From an internal standpoint, it is important to have staff, management, and your governing body appropriately informed of the process. This will not only help everyone work together to get things done, but also ensure that accreditation’s benefits are felt organization-wide.

Pro tip: Maximize your relationship with your Accreditation Coordinator

COA partners with organizations throughout the accreditation process. A key component of that partnership is the relationship between the Accreditation Coordinator and you, the Primary Contact. Here are a few suggestions on how to capitalize on this unique benefit.

  • Schedule – and really use to your advantage! – a monthly call, especially if it’s your first time going through the process. Having the time carved out on your calendar ensures that you have time specifically dedicated to accreditation each month. (Ex: “I have my call with my Coordinator next week and I haven’t looked at the FPS standards yet – let me get on that now!”) We understand that everyone has a million things going on in addition to accreditation, so blocking off time for checking in and asking questions is one way to stay on top of things.
  • Check out our extensive accreditation resources first before bringing any additional/clarifying questions onto your call. This will make sure that you’re using your time with your Accreditation Coordinator as productively as possible.
  • Involve other staff members in the monthly calls. Not only can this be a more efficient way to get everyone on the same page, but it also makes the process more team-driven and rewarding. This allows other staff members to “get to know” the COA voice on the other end of the phone to experience the partnership firsthand.
  • Whether for scheduled calls or when staying in contact in general, it is helpful for Accreditation Coordinators when Primary Contacts gather and send questions all at once, especially very specific standards questions. This is particularly beneficial when it comes to monthly check-in calls. If questions are sent over (in one email) a few days before the call, it gives the Accreditation Coordinator time to prepare and touch base with their team/the Standards Development Department as needed, which maximizes your time and makes for a productive conversation.

3) Be transparent

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Transparency is another critical factor to your success as a Primary Contact. This goes hand in hand with being a good communicator.

We often say that the Self-Study process is like holding a mirror up to your organization. This works best for everyone when the mirror is a clear one! Your Accreditation Coordinator is there to provide technical assistance and targeted support, but they can only do so if you communicate honestly about your struggles so that they can help you navigate your pain points. Identify your organization’s needs and be eager to ask questions.

This advice applies when communicating within your organization as well. Often, we find that one staff member doesn’t always hold all the knowledge/documents that are necessary to complete the accreditation process; therefore, it is important that you approach other staff and pull them in as a resource when needed.

4) Get involved

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We’ve already highlighted the importance of working with your Accreditation Coordinator – they are there to answer questions, interpret the standards, and guide you through the process. But don’t forget about all our other resources that are there for you to tap into!

If it’s feasible time- and budget-wise, attending our live Intensive Accreditation and Performance and Quality Improvement trainings can be very impactful, particularly if you or your organization are new to the accreditation process. We hold these trainings a few times a year. They are a great resource not only for taking a deeper dive into managing accreditation and learning strategies to enhance your PQI system, but also for networking with (and learning from!) colleagues that are in the same boat as you. Attending these is not a prerequisite for being a stellar Primary Contact, of course, but they are helpful if you can make it to them.

COA also has a plethora of self-paced trainings, tip sheets, tool kits, and more. Your MyCOA Portal will offer suggestions of which of these will work best for you at different points in the accreditation process. Be sure to use it! You will find everything that you need there to successfully navigate the process. The portal is secure, customized and will always include the specific information that is relevant to your organization.

Digging into these resources will provide you with a good overview of 1) how COA is going to review your organization, and 2) all the major milestones you need to hit along the way. This will help you to grasp the amount of work needed and the different deadlines that your organization is going to approach. Knowing these will help you guide others in your organization toward success.

Pro tip: Find your tribe

COA lists all our accredited organizations on our public website. Use the Who is Accredited Search to find peer organizations by location or service area. This practice can help you create a network and empower you and other Primary Contacts to access resources, share information, and ultimately make the most out of the accreditation process.

5)  Be an accreditation cheerleader

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Getting through the accreditation process is all about creating and maintaining momentum with your team. COA’s review is very comprehensive, and so it includes many potential ways for different staff to participate. Establishing and championing those opportunities can contribute to making accreditation more fun, rewarding, and successful.

We encourage Primary Contacts to tap into their creative side. Try developing a game that incorporates COA’s accreditation standards or creating a fun visual that tracks your progress. Your job is all about being a good motivator, so celebrate the victories both big and small. With as hard as you’re working, you all deserve it!

Though being a Primary Contact can feel like a lot of responsibility, rest assured that accreditation is by no means a one-person job. The process–from pulling together Self-Study evidence to preparing for the Site Visit–should be a team effort. Your role, then, is of a team captain. With these tips, we hope you can get out there and lead your crew to success!

Further reading

If you want to do a deeper dive, we’ve pulled together some additional resources below. Don’t forget to also check out those linked directly in your MyCOA portal.  


Has all the buzz around National Foster Care Month (or the new HBO documentary!) inspired you to think about becoming a foster parent yourself? With 30-50% of foster parents stepping down each year and more and more children being placed into the child welfare system, the need for loving, stable foster families has never been higher. But is becoming a foster parent right for you?

Foster parenting is not easy–it can be one of the most challenging experiences in one’s life. It can also be one of the most rewarding. Providing a child with a safe, welcoming home can have a dramatic impact on both them and their family, which makes becoming a foster parent a way to truly make a difference. Children in need of out-of-home care have diverse characteristics and needs, so there are different types of foster care. Read on to find resources that can help you decide if one of these is a good fit.

Where to research if foster parenting is right for you

The National Foster Parent Association (NFPA) Website

A great place to begin your search into foster parenting is the NFPA website, which contains everything from introductory information on the application process to foster parents’ and children’s Bill of Rights and the history of foster care

The site also has links to blogs that provide valuable insight from current foster parents about their experiences, as well as workbooks, support services, and more. There is even information for those who decide that foster parenting isn’t for them but that want to help out in the community in some other way!

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s Resource Parent Training Modules

Unfortunately, many children who enter foster care have experienced some kind of trauma. Combine this with the already fraught emotional situation of being separated from their biological family, and you can understand why some foster kids display challenging behaviors that can catch unprepared parents off guard.

The NCTSN offers training modules to help you learn about the types of trauma that children experience, how that manifests in behaviors, and how you can help a child feel safe. This might give you a taste of what to expect as a foster parent and help you decide whether it’s the right path.

Becoming a Foster Parent Guide from Adoption.com

There are multiple steps to becoming a foster parent; it is a good idea to know what the process will entail before you get started. This post does a good job of mapping out the road to your first placement, and links to resources that can help you along the way.

Where to learn about specialized types of foster parenting

For Kinship Care: “Kinship Caregivers and the Child Welfare System” Fact Sheet

Hoping to foster a child from your own family? You probably have a few questions about how that might make you different from other foster parents and how to best navigate the child welfare system in order for your relative to get the best care possible. The Child Welfare Information Gateway has a helpful tip sheet that covers all of these issues, as well as other important topics like how to find services such as therapy, respite care, and financial support.

For Therapeutic Care: “What is Treatment Foster Care?” from the Family Focused Treatment Association  

Children with significant emotional, behavioral, medical, or developmental needs require structured, specialized care. If the need for traditional foster parents is great, the need for specialized homes is even higher. This post covers the basics of treatment foster care and its benefits.

For LGBTQ Care: The Human Rights Campaign

The number of LGBTQ children and youth in the foster care system is disproportionately high. Many have experienced rejection from their families and are in special need of a welcoming home. The Human Rights Campaign offers tips on becoming a foster parent, how to find an LGBTQ-inclusive agency, the latest in LBGTQ adoption and foster care laws, and more. 

Where to get started

Ready to take the next step? Search for a COA-accredited foster care agency near you here, and get in touch to begin the discussion of how to partner with them to become a foster parent. 

You can also find the Child Welfare Information Gateway’s National Foster Care & Adoption Search directory here.

What are some other resources you’ve found helpful in your foster care journey? Share them in the comments!