Quality standards: The value of external accreditation

For ten years Janet Lewis-Jones was director of operations at a national charity responsible for contracts worth over £12m. She now divides her time between assessing organisations against quality standards and delivering training and consultancy to the voluntary sector.


Telling yourself and others you’re doing a good job is never as rewarding or persuasive as someone else who knows what they’re talking about telling you. External, objective measures score more brownie points with a range of internal and external stakeholders, including:

  • staff
  • clients
  • volunteers
  • funders.

As well as supporting successful fundraising, organisations also talk about the considerable feelgood factor they gain from external accreditation.

Using quality standard criteria for development

The criteria for many quality standards are available to organisations to develop their practice. Several of them are free to download.

Criteria can be used as a reference for development, as well as a mechanism for undertaking self-assessment. You may like to consider looking at the criteria for:

  • Investing in Volunteers (IiV), the UK quality standard for good practice in volunteer management
  • Volunteer Centre Quality Accreditation (VCQA), a quality mark for volunteer centres and other organisations providing volunteer centre functions
  • matrixused to assess services which support career, learning, work and life goals
  • Information Standard certification programme for organisations that produce evidence-based health and care information for the public
  • The Approved Provider Standard (APS), designed for mentoring and befriending projects
  • NCVO’s Charities Evaluation Service quality standard, PQASSO which helps large and small organisations to improve efficiency.

The next step: Why go to the trouble and expense of formal accreditation?

When I have completed an assessment and the organisation has achieved accreditation, I keep in touch and one of the questions I ask is, ‘Was accreditation worth it’?

As you might expect I get a range of responses and the main areas of value are:

  • help with interpreting the standard. While the criteria can be downloaded, and the providers of quality standards have explained how organisations can meet them, many say the process becomes much clearer when working with an advisor or assessor. Achieving the award creates more confidence
  • continuous quality improvement. As well as measuring the organisation against the criteria of a quality standard, the assessor will often identify areas the organisation might focus on for future development. This input is somewhat like a mini consultancy and is a useful contribution to strategic or operating plans
  • an opportunity to celebrate and promote what you do. Achieving accreditation gives organisations the opportunity to mark the occasion with events, media coverage and other profile raising activities but the onus is on, as it should be, the organisation publicising its accreditation.

I see some organisations doing this very well, and receiving considerable coverage. One costed the value of accreditation at several thousand pounds. Sadly others do miss out on some of the benefits by not fully appreciating how to make the best use of the process.

The value of accreditation

It can be time consuming to organise an assessment, and the costs involved can be less than appealing, but my answer to the question ‘is it worth it’, based on what organisations themselves have told me and continue to tell me, is a definite ‘yes’.

Find out more

  • You can read a broader analysis of working with the IiV standard, including the benefits of achieving accreditation to that standard.
  • Practical monitoring and evaluation, looks at tools for project management and where to find further guidance.
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