The Minnesota Charities Review Council has changed the way it lists the charities and nonprofits that meet its standards, making the list more fair to charities and more clear to potential donors.

The council offers a database of about 400 charities that have met its accountability standards, something akin to the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

Most of the major Minnesota nonprofits seek the council's certification. But in the past, some of them wound up looking like the bad guys. That's because if they took more than a year to meet all the standards, they were listed as "not meeting them,'' said Rich Cowles, the council's executive director.

"It's an example of how it could be really unfair,'' said Cowles. "By participating in the first place, they have demonstrated a commitment to transparency, whereas nonprofits not willing to participate don't get listed negatively -- or at all.''

The council changed that last week. Now, nonprofits working on certification will simply not be listed if they miss their deadline. Only nonprofits that have passed all the standards will be listed, eliminating confusion among potential donors.

Vision Loss Resources of Minneapolis, which for years has enjoyed the council's seal of approval, came close to looking like it was in the doghouse earlier this year. When it came up for its three-year review, it found it needed extra time to create a new policy required by the council.

The policy, by the way, was for fundraising -- something the nonprofit doesn't even do. Nonetheless, its staff and board of directors created a policy in the nick of time, avoiding a negative listing.

Kate Grathwol, its president and CEO, said the new rules make the listing more clear for consumers.

Grathwol, like Cowles, said she thinks the new rules will encourage more nonprofits to get certified.

"It encourages nonprofits to get the job done,'' she said. "We all want to be above average.''

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511