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University of Iowa News Release


March 17, 2008

Sidel discusses importance of nonprofit self-regulation at global conference

Nonprofit organizations around the world need to become more accountable to maintain public trust in the face of increasing scrutiny from governments, the media and citizens, a University of Iowa law professor said last week at an international gathering of scholars and researchers of nonprofit and philanthropic organizations.

But Mark Sidel said developing and enforcing effective methods of self-regulation will be difficult.

"Never has the third sector been more important in societies around the world and in the international arena, and yet never has its legitimacy been more challenged," said Sidel, an expert on third sector organizations and president-elect of the International Society for Third Sector Research. Sidel delivered the keynote address at annual national conference of the Israeli Center for Third Sector Research in Beer Sheva, Israel.

"Governments, the media, donors, grantees and individual citizens show increasing doubt that our sector is accountable to the public or to government. And in some countries the voluntary sector has not helped by engaging in dubious transactions, over-paying top staff, allowing questionable expenses, and failing to show effective results," he said.

While government regulation is one method to assure accountability and transparency in the third sector, Sidel said nonprofits and philanthropies are trying to minimize government involvement by establishing self-regulation systems in addition to inevitable government laws and policies. He discussed the promise and obstacles to nonprofit self-regulation in the United States, India, the Philippines, Pakistan, Cambodia and other countries.

He said self-regulation has become even more important in recent years in the battle against terrorism.

"The charitable and philanthropic sectors in a number of countries and regions have sought to use self-regulation as a counter-weight to enhanced application of counter-terrorism law and policy against charities and foundations," he said. "So such self-regulatory initiatives as the Principles of International Charity in the United States seek to fight terrorism through enhancing self-regulation and preserving the enabling environment for the voluntary sector."

As a result of this new imperative within the field, Sidel said third sector organizations are trying out a range of different self-regulation initiatives that raise a host of questions themselves.

"These initiatives, programs and experiments often create multiple, overlapping and often conflicting motivations for self-regulation, and raise questions about the effectiveness of self-regulatory approaches to the problems that face the nonprofit and philanthropic sector in countries throughout the world," he said.

Sidel also warned that effective self-regulation systems will not bestow automatic public legitimacy upon third sector organizations.

"Nonprofit self-regulation is often touted as the last remaining piece needed for third sector accountability and legitimacy," he said. "But the situation is far more complex, and the multiple roles for self-regulation more complicated than its proponents and the third sector sometimes assume."

Sidel, who is professor of law and a UI faculty scholar, and Willard "Sandy" Boyd, Rawlings-Miller professor of law and director of the Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center, recently served on the national Advisory Committee on Nonprofit Self-Regulation convened by Independent Sector, the national association for American nonprofits. The committee drafted new Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice: A Guide for Charities and Foundations, which are now being implemented nationwide.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Mark Sidel, UI College of Law, 319-384-4640,; Tom Snee, 319-384-0010 University News Services, (office), 319-541-8434 (cell),