Clearly defined board policy statements take the guesswork out of conducting the affairs of the association for volunteer leaders and staff.
All boards operate based on the member approved by-laws of the organization. Although the by-laws define the do’s and don’ts of how the organization is structured, policy statements can add clarity to the way the association conducts its affairs and acts in specific circumstances. Clear policy statements allow the chief staff officer (commonly the Executive Director) and board members to outline the roles and responsibilities of each group during specific situations.
All policy statements should relate back to what is best for the organization to reach their mission and vision. Boards need to look at all circumstances when considering a policy to ensure it is implemented consistently over time. The policies created today will guide the activities of future boards.
What types of situations can be addressed in policy statements? Many of our association clients have policies dealing with:
• Membership on committees;
• Association signing authorities for business and financial transactions;
• Conflict of interest policies that outline the duties of board members when conducting themselves as directors of the association;
• Terms of reference for the board of directors;
• Board member self evaluation;
• Travel Policy dealing with allowable expenses;
• Investment management;
• Record retention;
• Budget approval; and
• Policy to review existing policies to keep them current.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means and each association needs to base their policy needs on the situations that it is exposed to.
The new Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act came into effect in October 2011. Our federally incorporated (national) clients have been required to review their by-laws in order to ensure they are compliant with the new act by October 2014. This process forced our clients to look at the by-laws and analyze each section to see if it meets the needs of their association. One of our clients moved committee structures from by-laws to a policy statement. By doing this it allowed the board flexibility when and if it needs to make changes to committee structures in the future. Changes in by-laws require approval of the entire membership at an annual general meeting. By removing it from the by-laws the board can make periodic changes giving it flexibility to create and delete committees as the association needs without requiring it to go to the entire membership for approval.
How do you get started or refine what you already have? When considering the policy statements, don’t start from scratch. Look at like-minded associations and review the policies they have in place to achieve their mission & vision. A little research can go a long way to lighten the workload. Make sure that whatever you end up with covers the situations that are important to your association.
As part of responsibilities of board members, ensure the policies are reviewed regularly (every three years as an example) to make sure they are up to date in meeting the needs of the association. The value to board members and to staff will be tremendous moving forward.