Board Source, a national organization focused exclusively on good governance practices, has four e-books with policy samples in forty-eight topic areas. You could, if motivated, keep your board busy writing policies for years. Does your nonprofit need forty-eight polices to operate? Here is my list of six areas where policies or written documents are musts.
1. Strategy and Plan. While these two are often linked, a strategy and a plan are different. A strategy is a conceptual framework for how to reach your goal; the infrastructure you will build upon. The concept originated with the military. Generals designed strategies to win battles and, eventually, the war. Your strategy will build on your skills, gifts and reduce your shortcomings. In contrast, your plan is a specific list of sequenced activities, based on your strategies, that you will complete this month, quarter, or year. It focuses on what’s next.
2. Fundraising Plan. Does your budget include donated funds? If yes, you need a fundraising plan. Why do you need this plan besides as an organization plan? Like an abridged version of an essay, most organization’s plans lack the details you need to form or grow relationships with individuals, foundations, and corporations. A fundraising plan fleshes out a clear road map to these donations.
3. Need List. From the point of view of the community impact, what are your three to five biggest needs this year? Since you might choose from many possibilities, this list reflects your priorities. When adopted by all of an organization’s stakeholders, a need list focuses efforts to fulfill these key needs.
4. Conflict of Interest. Is it okay for a board member to sell their pottery in your gallery? Is it acceptable for you to invest your endowment funds at a board member’s firm? A conflict of interest policy helps you to sort out potential conflicts before they happen. It sets clear expectations. It’s a tool that builds donor trust.
5. and 6. Leadership Policies. You need two documents here: board selection criteria and a succession plan. Your board selection criteria list objectively identifies the leadership skills and needs of your nonprofit. It removes personalities from the discussion. A succession plan requires you to hold awkward conversations so you can create contingency plans. Just like planning for your personal estate, it’s planning done to help those left behind.
There you have it. Six key policies instead of forty-eight. To get started, find examples of each online. Then adapt them. Fifty percent of the benefit of developing any policy or written documents arises from the discussions your board and others have as they create them. They help you to ask the important questions. The remaining value takes place from using them.
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