Friday, March 11, 2011

More on policies and procedures

I have been involved with governance of charities for over 25 years and have written many a policy but having paid work which focuses on writing policies and procedures has been a sobering activity. I really haven't done very well in the past - the polices have been OK, probably the procedures have been better, but they haven't been as good as they will be from now on. It's good to be paid to learn!

Procedures are relatively easy to write - they are just writing down what is done. For example a financial procedure will say who holds the cheque book, who signs the cheques, how the cheque book and bank account are reconciled and so on. However the policy is a bit trickier - we need to ask ourselves what are the overarching principles that guide, for example, the financial operations.

It is these moments or even hours of reflection that can bring the most insight. It is not about what we do but about why we do it. Sometimes we do things because we have to - legislation, the government and the Charity Commission tell us that we do. In some instances it is because we want to do things - we decide that we want to that bit more.

I remember one discussion at our Meeting House about repairs and maintenance and I voiced the opinion that we should do the best that we could because we weren't just doing it for us but for future generations. How many of us are dealing with issues that were caused by short-cuts or poor quality work in the past? We understand why - because funds would have been tight. But if in our policies we say that when making a decision we not only have to consider the impact on today but also on tomorrow, then we are saying something about the responsibilities that we believe we have to those who come after us.

It really isn't enough to know what we do (our procedures) but we have to understand collectively why we do these things (policy). This is how we make our principles real.

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