There are many reasons to write policies on voluntary action in nonprofit organizations. Such policies can be used to establish continuity, to ensure fairness and equity, to clarify values and beliefs, to communicate expectations, to specify standards, and to state rules. There is no more compelling reason for immediate policy development, however, than fear of the consequences of not doing so. Check out these three general functions policies serve in volunteer programs:
1. Policies as risk management
With this function, the volunteer manager look around the volunteer program, walk around the volunteer work site, observe hazards, and play the “What If?” game. These all fall under the first step in the risk management process called disaster imaging. This allows for the manager to determine where policies might prevent accidents and injuries, and to minimize the harm should an accident happen. Make it a proactive to think in detail about policy development whenever a serious incident report arrives on your desk.
2. Policies as Values and Belief Statements
What do we hold as important? What do we value that volunteers need to know about? What is our philosophy about volunteers, about the work we do, about how we do business around here?Policy statements are a mechanism for both articulating and communicating values, beliefs, and positions. The technique to identify policies of this sort involves thinking through the values, beliefs, and positions held by the organization. Ask these questions:
- What positions has the agency taken on issues, questions, or problems?
- What does the organization believe regarding good and bad, right and wrong, proper and improper, ethical and unethical?
Finally, the organization must engage in a values sort, a process whereby values are prioritized, with those that emerge on top serving as the basis for policy development.
3. Policies as Rules
Policies can be employed as rules to specify expectations, regulations, and guides to action. A policy written to eliminate or reduce a specific risk might sound like a rule. However, a policy written because a rule is needed to guide a particular action may serve to reduce a specific hazard. To determine required policies of this sort, the manager might review existing rules, both written and unwritten. Also, think about advisements or directives issued verbally to volunteers that have never been written down anywhere, but reflect “how we do things around here.”