Implementing ISO 9001 in a nonprofit organization

Should a nonprofit organization implement a Quality Management System according to ISO 9001:2015? What could be the benefits of ISO 9001 for nonprofits? And, should a nonprofit organization go a step further and certify its Quality Management System? What could be the benefits of such a decision? All these questions come up due to the increase in the number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) over the years. In this article, learn more about ISO 9001 as applied to a NGO with donors.

Interested parties’ increased scrutiny

The number of NGOs has grown exponentially since the 1980s, with some sources (Public Interest Registry) reporting that around 10 million NGOs may already exist around the world. This exponential increase, coupled with the dissemination of some media reports of poor use of the resources available to these organizations, can increase a sense of uncertainty on the part of the donors who finance these organizations, both in terms of good use of resources for the intended purpose, and of effectiveness in the production of concrete results.

As the number of NGOs increases, so does the scrutiny by interested parties like the general public, donors, and governments. Responsible and careful NGOs want to minimize donor uncertainty and differentiate themselves by sending signals that try to convey being purpose-led and being effective. So, let’s see how to achieve this with an ISO 9001 Quality Management System.

Implementation and certification of a QMS – Benefits

Implementing a Quality Management System and taking the extra step of getting its certification is a voluntary act that can convey trust and credibility that an organization generates results aligned with its mission. Improvement of credibility and image is one of most important benefits of getting the certification of a Quality Management System. In this article, learn more about ISO 9001 implementation benefits.

Many NGOs suffer from inefficiencies and lack of performance. Implementing a Quality Management System requires an organization to develop overall performance indicators and use them as benchmarks for monitoring and improving performance by unearthing hidden problems. So, developing a continual improvement culture is another benefit coming out of implementing a Quality Management System.

Another important benefit of implementing a Quality Management System is derived from using the requirements of outside parties as a reference. This enhances beneficiaries, donors, and governments, for designing the outcomes to be delivered and then for monitoring and evaluating the feedback from those parties in search of improvement opportunities. Such practice contributes to developing opportunities to increase interested parties’ satisfaction with the work of an NGO.

Rationale for implementing a QMS in an NGO

The importance of the process approach

ISO 9001:2015 requires the use of the process approach. That means modeling the way a nonprofit organization works as a set of interrelated and interacting activities performed by someone in a systematic way. So, NGOs determine which processes contribute the most to desired outcomes. If an organization wants to improve performance, it must act upon the relevant processes. One important consequence of this approach is that performance, either good or bad, can be depersonalized.

Performance starts to be seen as a natural consequence of the way a process or a set of processes is operated. If anything goes wrong, instead of starting a witch hunt, one has to find the weak points in one or more processes and work on them. The use of the process approach makes nonprofit organizations much more professional, much more reliable, and contributes to much greater worker/volunteer confidence and autonomy, a good base for people engagement.

Learn more about the process approach in the blog post ISO 9001: The importance of the process approach.

Developing documented procedures for NGOs

ISO 9001:2015 gives a lot of latitude to organizations when speaking about documented procedures. It has no mandatory documented procedures; what the standard does is invite organizations to think about when it is useful to have documented procedures. An overwhelming majority of organizations consider that some kind of documented information should surely exist – for example, based on process complexity, people turnover, or product complexity. Adopting documented procedures according to each organization’s idea of best practices has the power of making organizations less dependent on people’s moods. In a certain way, documented procedures and records generate a kind of organizational memory; it is much clearer: who has authority, who is responsible, what is to be done, and how it should be done. That makes, for example, admission training much more effective.

Developing documented procedures forces people to think critically about what they do. That way, it is more likely for them to identify wasteful practices and present improvement opportunities. Developing documented procedures is an important tool to reduce process variability. Learn more about which procedures to document in the blog post Deciding which procedures to document in a QMS.

Rethinking an organization

Implementing a Quality Management System is an opportunity to rethink a nonprofit organization: why does it exist; what are the priorities; for whom does it work; how does it relate with its environment; how does it work; and what should be measured? All those topics are considered when an organization applies ISO 9001:2015. With the implementation of a QMS, a nonprofit organization is invited to focus its attention on what is really relevant for the long term and, at the same time, to evaluate its everyday activities and to improve its efficiency through the identification and standardization of its internal processes.

Implementing a QMS can be a way of promoting better engagement of employees and volunteers. Once there is a rationale for rules, they have logic, they have justification, they don’t change every week according to someone’s mood, and it is much clearer what can be expected from each one, and how each one can contribute. To conclude, implementing a QMS in nonprofit organizations and taking the extra step of certification can be important in order to boost image among donors by reinforcing the message of clarity and professionalism. It also serves as internal pressure to make deadlines clear and urgent, and as a way of maintaining continued discipline once the organization is audited every year.

For help with budget planning for your NGO’s ISO 9001 implementation, download this free white paper: How to budget an ISO 9001 implementation project.

Advisera Carlos Pereira da Cruz
Carlos Pereira da Cruz
Carlos Pereira da Cruz has over 30 years of experience working as a consultant, trainer, and auditor with ISO 9001 and ISO 14001. He is a university teacher and author of several books on strategic management, ISO 9001, and ISO 14001, as well as an ISO 9001 author.