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America’s communities need and deserve excellent Community Action Agencies. Every organization can improve, and should continuously strive to increase efficiency, effectiveness, and to exceed expectations. The Pathways to Excellence program empowers CAAs in their pursuit of excellence through an intentional process of assessment, planning, and capacity building to institutionalize known best-in-class practices from the Community Action network and outlined in the 35 Standards of Excellence.   

The Community Action Partnership’s Standards of Excellence are based on the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and specifically adapted for the Community Action Network. They represent the very best practices for agencies as implemented by top-performing CAAs across our national network.


The Standards for Excellence set out a list of critical benchmarks of excellence in seven categories:

1.    Organizational Leadership
2.    Strategic Planning and Direction
3.    Customer, Constituent, and Partner Focus
4.    Measurement, Analysis, and Performance Management
5.    Human Resource Focus
6.    Organizational Process Management
7.    Organizational Results

Click here for the full Community Action Standards of Excellence.

    The Tiered Approach to Excellence

    The Pathways to Excellence program follows similar approaches utilized by state-based Baldrige Award application methodologies, beginning with an entry-level or “commitment” level with additional levels of progressive engagement and required agency/staff work. The final level is the Award for Excellence. This “tiered approach” is designed to permit entry by a CAA at any point; there is no requirement to formally complete one level of achievement to access another. However, it is strongly recommended that agencies consider proceeding through the levels, as they build on one another. Furthermore, successful completion of some levels will require the completion of some requirements of previous levels.

    • At the Bronze Level, the agency takes the initial step toward excellence by learning more deeply about the Standards of Excellence and beginning to move beyond the threshold levels of the Organizational Standards.
    • At the Silver Level, the agency invests in training staff in the standards and their documentation. The CAAs participating in the Silver Level form a cohort to experience the level together with fellow excellence peers. Sliver Level CAA staff participate in Pathways Implementer training and T/TA activities primarily within this cohort setting.
    • At the Gold Level, the agency invests in a thorough assessment of its achievement of each of the Standards of Excellence. The CAAs participating in the Gold Level form a cohort to experience the tier together with fellow excellence peers. Gold Level CAA staff participate in the Agency Self-Study e-course training and T/TA activities primarily within this cohort setting.
    • At the Platinum Level, the agency demonstrates its achievement of the Standards of Excellence, onsite, before a team of experienced peer reviewers who confirm the CAA’s achievement of Excellence. Successful completion of the level results in achieving the Award for Excellence.

    You can learn more about what is required for each level by clicking here.


    Interested in Pursuing Pathways to Excellence?

    2022 will be a pilot year for the new Pathways to Excellence program. Check back here soon for more information on how to enroll. In the meantime, let us know you’re interested by filling out this form and we’ll keep you up to date as additional information is available on our official launch.

    Peer Reviewer Opportunity

    Become qualified as a Pathways to Excellence peer-expert reviewer in Community Action’s initiative to recognize and promote excellence and continuous improvement among CAAs nationwide. This training will qualify you as an eligible reviewer of agency self-studies completed under the Award for Excellence in Community Action and the Pathways to Excellence initiatives.

    More information coming soon!

    Pathways to Excellence 2018 Award Recipient

    The Partnership is pleased to announce that the United Planning Organization (UPO) in Washington, D.C. has received this year’s Pathways to Excellence Award. When UPO’s President and CEO, Dana Jones, took over several years ago, he inherited an agency that had been mismanaged and was struggling. Jones and his team enrolled in the Pathways process and turned things around.

    Please take the time to watch this short acceptance video by UPO.

    For more information, contact the Training and Technical Assistance team!

    Aaron Wicks

    Vice President, Organizational Capacity Building

    Maribeth Schneber-Rhemrev

    Director, Organizational Capacity Building

    Tayla Daniel

    Program Associate, Training & Technical Assistance