I can’t count the number of times a member has called with a sticky situation—how to handle a conflict of interest, or a board member not pulling his or her weight—but, when I ask about what expectations or policies are written down, I learn that there’s nothing in place.

That’s an awkward time for the board to decide what the foundation’s policy is! Having policies in writing is one of the best ways to avoid being tripped up by such problems.

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You can put this data to use in your own foundation today. Start with the most common policy and work your way down. Starting with a conflict of interest statement, ask if your foundation has this policy, and, if not, if this policy would be helpful in a pinch. Not all foundations need to have all these policies—for example, not all foundations need a donor intent statement—and there are others that your foundation may benefit from that are not on this list. You only want to adopt those policies that are meaningful and relevant for your foundation.

We think of the overall growth in policy adoption as good news for two reasons. When a foundation board has considered an issue and put it in writing for the future, this indicates that board members are being more responsible in fulfilling their fiduciary duty of care—a good sign of health for the organization. Written policies also mean the foundation is more likely to operate efficiently and fulfill its mission effectively, because board and staff know what Plan A is when situations arise that need quick response.

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