7 Actionable Principles for a Strong Social Sector

Inspired by the opportunity to strengthen local nonprofits and relationships between nonprofit organizations and their funders, CNE unites local wisdom and experience with national frameworks and leading practices in these 7 Actionable Principles for a Strong Social Sector:

1. Create Strategic Budgets


Principle 1 icon

We Create Strategic Budgets that Fully Fund Our Work.

2. Manage Financial Position


Principle 2 icon

We Sustain Our Organization by Effectively Managing Our Financial Position.

3. Build Relationships


Principle 3 icon

We Grow Financial Support by Building Mutual Trust and Accountability.

4. Prioritize Equity


Principle 4 icon

We Prioritize Equity with Learning, Skill-Building, and Action.

5. Develop Leaders


Principle 5 icon

We Develop Leaders Across our Organization Who Model Our Mission and Values.

6. Effect Positive Change


Principle 6 icon

We Effect Positive Change by Collaborating with and Adapting to the Needs of Our Communities.

7. Evaluate Impact


Principle 7 icon

We Define and Achieve Success by Clarifying, Measuring, and Evaluating the Results of Our Work.

“At a recent grantee conference, CNE led the learning for 80 organizations spanning multiple sectors. With the added challenge of varying capacity levels, CNE designed engaging programming that allowed participants to examine and elevate their role in the community, while finding new ways to collaborate. Their thoughtful approach and content delivery renewed enthusiasm for tackling the issues facing our rapidly growing community.”
~ The Walton Family Foundation (CNE 7AP consulting client)

Created from 10 discussion sessions + 67 community members + 4 national frameworks



Explore for self-reflection and/or discussion (among peers or at staff or board meetings)


Orient board and staff


Share with your funders and the nonprofits you support to strengthen your community


Assess the health of your organization and/or funding process


These principles offer a common language around key and proven practices, informed by the community, that enable the social sector to be more effective, make better use of resources, and increase community impact. Some of the concepts and resources may already be a matter of course for your organization, others may be new or even uncomfortable; we encourage an open reflection on and imagination for new ways of thinking and working. Every nonprofit and funder is encouraged to interact and use these principles based on their own circumstances and positioning. The principles are built on values of curiosity, inclusivity, and trial and error—not perfection. They are meant to be deliberate and ongoing, to push forward imaginative ideas, and to create better community solutions together.


While principles can be helpful reference points on the path to nonprofit health, to many they suggest a final destination, and they don’t give nonprofits and their funders permission to learn and grow, to deepen understanding, or, importantly, to fail. Failure, and the lessons and adaptation that come from it, are a requirement in healthy organizations.


In the midst of this work, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others (https://sayevery.name/) shone an undeniable light on racial injustice and police brutality, sparking demands for and new promise of a nationwide racial reckoning. Our long overdue grappling with the systems of racial oppression that have created inequities in every aspect of life requires that we acknowledge, learn about, and address equity issues in every aspect of our individual, organizational, community, and systems work. CNE is mindful of the critical importance of and the changes required to center justice and equity in the work of nonprofits and funders. A commitment to equity is one of the seven stand-alone principles and is reflected in each of the other principles; we further encourage the ongoing intention, attention, and change needed to make equity and justice not just a goal, but a reality.

We acknowledge too that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused community upheaval forcing dramatic changes to our lives, our communities, and our work. These changes have sparked renewed significance in the question: How do we build a community where everyone in it can thrive? A healthy social sector that adheres to tested, community-driven, and still relevant principles of good practice is critical to this work.

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CNE offers trainings and learning exchanges connected to the principles.

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CFA Institute

Holly Hatcher,
Hatcher Consulting LLC

Karen Klick,
Klick Consulting LLC

The 12 community members, including 4 DEI practitioners, that reviewed various iterations of the principles