A Policy On How to Adopt Policy for Nonprofits

Policy work in a non-profit organization operates from within a largely wide-open arena, driven by funder compliance requirements, urgent needs in response to a real or perceived threat, policies mandated by law; or issues identified through an audit.

Depending upon the size of the nonprofit, the number of staff (resources) in the nonprofit, and what I term as the policy ‘literacy’ of the board members and the executive director in position during the year in which each policy is written and adopted, the resulting pool of organization policies can vary significantly in format, scope and intent.  A non-profit policy manual collection can show little consistency in differentiating between policy and procedures. Policies can be in place that contradict each other or that are outdated or no longer needed.

The work and mission of a nonprofit rightfully is the main focus of meetings (i.e. it would not be typical for someone to become a board member because they love policy).  However, what faces the executive director of an organization when they inherit this chaotic collection of documents built up over the years, is a time-consuming paper shuffle, trying to bring order out of documents that sometimes only share a characteristic of having the word policy written at the top with an adoption date.

Typically my policy work with nonprofits begins with a search to find everything that is considered to be a policy or was once labeled as policy in the past. Sometimes these policies can be found in one place, sometimes they are scattered and merged within other agency documents.  It is not unusual to find that many of the policies, especially those that are older, are not in electronic form.

I believe it is helpful for a discussion to start with nonprofit governing boards on what is the difference between a policy and procedure and what is the process they want to set into place as to how a policy is adopted, reviewed or deleted by the board; as well as the roles and responsibilities for keeping a policy manual up to date. Whereas there are easily found examples of ‘best practices’, very little exists on the actual adoption process itself.

The attached policy is written as a template or starting point for a nonprofit organization.   It distinguishes between mandated and operational policies, establishes a board policy committee, assigns responsibilities, defines a process for adoption and review, and makes a distinction between policy and procedures.

Download Template: PDF | DOC

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This post was written by Kathleen McDonald