Last updated July 6, 2017
Mention the word policy and most people’s eyes glaze over or roll to the back of their head. However, policy is an essential part of providing good governance and helps safeguard your organisation from potential risk.
What is a Policy?
In nutshell, a policy is a ‘statement of position’ or ‘ground-rule’ for how situations are handled within your organisation. You can have policies to guide any issue or situation you choose, at every level of the organisation.
Why are Policies important?
Policies are important for several reasons. Well written policies:
1. Ensure Consistency and Speed Up Decision Making
Each time a situation arises, there can be lengthy discussions about how it should be handled. Well written policy informs the decision-making process and reduces unnecessary discussion or debate. It means that everyone in the organisation understands how things need to be done, and why they need to be done in that way.
2. Reduce the Risk of Conflict
Conflict often occurs in an organisation because of misunderstandings or assumptions about how a situation should be handled. One person, acting with the best of intentions, can unwittingly cross boundaries that others assumed were obvious. Having well written policies ensure that everyone in your organisation understands how specific situations should be handled and there is no room for misunderstandings or assumptions.
3. Safeguard the Organisation’s Credibility
Many a reputation was damaged by well-meaning trustees, staff or volunteers acting without a full understanding of the situation. Policy helps prevent knee-jerk reactions to potentially controversial or delicate situations by thinking about them before they occur. In developing policy, people can make calm, considered decisions about how potential situations should be handled.
4. Protect the Organisation from Tangible Risk
Organisations face several tangible risks, the most common of which relate to finances, assets, and health and safety. Well written policies help minimise these risks and set guidelines for how a situation should be handled if the risk is realised.
When should Policies be developed?
Often organisations do not realise they need a policy on a specific issue until it arises and therefore, many policies are written after something has already gone wrong. However, the most effective policies are developed by considering potential risk before it happens. These policies are usually more considered and take into account a bigger picture.
When an organisation is new, policies can often feel unnecessary because everyone knows, likes and trusts each other. However, as new people join the team, they bring with them different assumptions and behaviours. Waiting until this point to develop policies can cause awkward conversations and policy development can easily be viewed as a personal attack. The best time to write policy is when your organisation is first established. The second-best time to write policy is right now.
Who should develop Policies?
Ultimately policy development is a Board responsibility. However, many Boards will delegate this responsibility to management and simply approve policies as they are provided. For organisations working in a Partnership Model of Non-Profit Governance, it is common for a trustee/s and manager to work on policy development together. Once a policy is developed it is then presented to the Board for approval.
What Policies do you need?
You can have as many or as few policies as you choose, depending on how your organisation runs and where you identify potential risk. There is no such thing as a standard list of policies, instead it is useful to consider potential situations within your organisation and decide whether a policy is required to address it.
When deciding on what policies to develop, some questions you might want to consider are:
- How will you appoint trustees?
- Is it important for you to consider diversity of age, gender, ethnicity, skill set, experience and relationship to the organisation? If so, how will you manage this?
- Who is authorised to approach potential trustees?
- What constitutes a Conflict of Interest in decision making? How will any potential Conflict of Interest be handled?
- Is a commitment to Governance training important?
- How will you prevent Founders Syndrome from occurring at a Board level?
Staff and Volunteers
- How will new staff and volunteers be recruited?
- Is it important for you to recruit staff from within your volunteer pool first or is the position required to be advertised?
- Is it important to consider the impact of family members working together? What if one member is in a position of authority?
- Is it important for your organisation to pay a living wage?
- How are wage increases considered and awarded?
- Can a staff member also be a trustee? Can family members of staff be trustees?
- How are staff and volunteer complaints handled?
- Is it important that staff and volunteers are reference checked or police checked? Can people with a criminal record work/volunteer with the organisation?
- Are there any issues that would automatically preclude a person from volunteering or being employed? How will you manage that process?
- What would cause a volunteer to be dismissed? How will this process be handled?
- How will you prevent Founders Syndrome in staff and volunteers?
Funding and Financial Policies
- What purchasing or contract decisions need to be approved by the Board? What decisions can be made by management?
- How will you minimise the risk of financial theft or fraud?
- How will you respond if an incidence of theft or fraud is identified?
- Can trustees be paid for work carried out for your organisation?
- Should trustees, staff and volunteers be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses? If so, what is the process?
- Is there an expectation that trustees will give financially to your organisation?
- How important is it for your organisation to operate with financial reserves? What is considered a reasonable reserve?
- How will your organisation manage their budget if financial reserves drop below that line?
- How will your organisation manage financial reserves larger than that considered reasonable?
- Will your organisation accept funds from grants made available through gambling or alcohol sales?
- Are there any industries that your organisation will not accept sponsorship from?
- Are there situations where you would not accept a donation from an individual? If so, what might those situations be?
- Who is authorised to approach potential donors, sponsors and funders?
Marketing and Communication
- Who is authorised to speak to the media on a day-to-day basis? Who is authorised to speak to the media after an incidence of crisis or controversy?
- Is there any form of media or communication you will not take part in?
- When using Social Media, how can you ensure the organisation, it’s staff, volunteers and clients are protected?
Information and Asset Management
- How will you protect client or organisational confidentiality? How will you handle a situation where confidentiality is breached?
- How will you protect the privacy of your donors and supporters?
- How will you ensure your data and non-financial assets are adequately protected in the case of natural disaster?
- How will you ensure your data and non-financial assets are protected from theft or fraud?
Health and Safety
- How will you minimise health and safety risks in every aspect of your organisation?
- How will you respond in a situation where a health and safety breach occurs?
- How will you ensure your organisation is prepared for a natural disaster?
- How does your organisation view mental health and well-being? Is this adequately demonstrated in staff contracts?
Not all of these situations will necessarily require a policy, but it is important that you consider how each question relates to your organisation and what impact an associated incident would have. As you read through the questions, you are likely to think of other issues that require attention within your organisation also.
Can you change Policies?
Policies are established to protect your organisation and give guidance in decision making, so it is important that they are adhered to – otherwise there is little point in making them. However, policies should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure they remain up-to-date and relevant to the needs of your organisation. Developing policy is not a one-time-done-for-life deal.
Where can you find sample Policies?
Subscribing to Tonic Magazine means you will receive sample policies (as well as other cool templates and examples) in your inbox each week. Not all policies will be relevant or appropriate for your organisation, but they will give you a starting point.
When things are going well it’s easy to feel like policy is a huge and unnecessary task, but if you break it into bite-sized pieces, it becomes quite manageable and rewarding. With each policy you create, you are taking a tangible step towards protecting your organisation from risk and safeguarding it for the future.
Kerri is a Facilitator / Trainer with Exult and has over 20 years experience working in and for the community sector.
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