Defining the Better Business Bureau: Its History, Purpose and Future

Founded in 1965, the organization has greatly improved communication, regulation and policy among businesses and consumers throughout the state.

The Better Business Bureau of Delaware has been serving the public and the business community throughout the state since its founding in 1965. The organization has evolved over the years to meet the changing needs of the community.

Just two years after its founding, for example, the BBB of Delaware initiated its Consumer Affairs Council, which it described as “the nation’s first concerted effort by businessmen to improve the economic literacy of the public.” The Council was launched at a kickoff event at the Hotel du Pont featuring keynote speaker Paul Rand Nixon, then-chairman of the Federal Trade Commission.

In 1973, the organization formed its first Arbitration Council to help consumers and businesses resolve disputes quickly and inexpensively without involving attorneys or the court system. In 1975 the BBB launched its Advertising Review Council in conjunction with the Advertising Club of Wilmington, Delaware Retail Merchants Association and the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce. The Review Council aimed “to improve the truthfulness and honesty of advertising” by educating business, trade and service organizations and by resolving advertising complaints.

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From its beginning, the BBB of Delaware has worked hard to represent all three counties in the state. The opening of the BBB’s Milford office in 1975 made it easier to fulfill that commitment.

Over the years, a who’s who of Delaware has been affiliated with the BBB, including its first chairman of the board, William Patterson of Patterson Schwartz Real Estate, and its first female board chair, Sally V. Hawkins, general manager of WILM NewsRadio, who served in 1976. It has received the approval, too, of Delaware’s government leaders. At least three governors—Pete du Pont, Mike Castle and Tom Carper—have recognized the contributions of the BBB to the community by declaring a Better Business Bureau Week in Delaware.

In the 1990s, the BBB of Delaware began giving awards to some of its accredited businesses, including the Rush Award, given since 1993 to a family-owned Delaware business, and the Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics, awarded annually since 1999. In an effort to reach out to the next generation of business people, the BBB inaugurated a Student Ethics college scholarship program in 2009.

The organization continues to grow and evolve. In 2008, for example, the BBB rebranded itself; businesses that achieve accreditation are now called accredited businesses, not “members,” a term that better reflects the BBB’s mission.

The organization has increased its social media presence, which now includes not only a Facebook page and Twitter account but also a QRC, or Quick Response Code, that BBB accredited businesses can use to connect customers quickly and easily with their BBB review.

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As it has in the past, the BBB of Delaware will continue to add programs and services to meet the changing needs of the state’s consumers and the business community. 

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