Trustees, as part of their governance duties, are required to ensure that their charity has the appropriate policies and procedures in place, from those that relate to the employment of people to those that ensure the financial safety and security of your organisation.
However, that does not mean that you should be writing or editing them. In fact, you almost definitely shouldn’t be! Because, unless you have a specific professional qualification relating to particular policies, most of you are not and cannot be experts in the policies that you are required to have to run your charity. Indeed, you run the risk of having uninformed or partially informed opinions leaking into your policies instead of robust good practice if you think it is your job to write them.
So how do you fulfil your duty as a trustee in relation to policies and procedures then? Well, your job is to ask the right questions. To ask the sorts of questions that will satisfy you that the policies and procedures you have in place are legal, appropriate for the size of your organisation, are able to be implemented and are understood and followed.
Below is a shortlist of questions that you should be asking:
Do you know what policies you are required to have by law?
Even if you don’t have any staff there are nonetheless policies and procedures you must have. For example, you will have to comply with Health and Safety legislation if you use volunteers; financial rules if you collect and bank money and so on.
Do you have the policies that you need listed with dates when they were last reviewed?
It is helpful to know when and how often your policies are reviewed to keep track of how up to date they are.
Have any policies that directly relate to legislation (eg employment law, Equalities Act etc) been checked that they comply with the latest version of the legislation/regulations?
Legislation and its associated regulations can, indeed often does, change and those changes can often go unnoticed. It is therefore helpful to compare policies with the relevant current version of the legislation and regulations.
Have your policies been benchmarked against other good practice in the sector/sub-sector?
Often it is sensible to ask to see other organisations’ policies, especially from larger organisations where it is more likely they have access to the expertise to ensure they are compliant. You can adapt them to suit your own situation.
Do your policies reflect the size and make up of your organisation?
Your policies shouldn’t just be lifted from sources without ensuring that they are the right fit for your organisation. Policies that suit an organisation with 250 employees are probably overkill for an organisation with 25.
Do your policies reflect the culture and values of your organisation?
Good policies and procedures are understood and implemented. It is important to make sure that the language and structure isn’t just formal but reflects how you want to be seen. And it’s a good idea to have policies in place that reinforce culture and values, such as policies around behaviour or the standards you expect of your leaders or how to conduct 1-1s.
Are your policies clearly written and easy to understand and follow?
The purpose of a policy is for it to be followed when necessary. If the wording uses too much jargon then it will be hard for staff to understand and therefore follow. Make sure you are using simple language, visuals where necessary (for example a flow chart for how the grievance procedure works is easier to understand than a lot of dense paragraphs).
How do you ensure that staff are informed about and compliant with your policies?
Most importantly of all – policies are no good if they’re stuck in a drawer. Staff need to be consulted on them as they’re being drawn up and briefed on them regularly.