How do board policies work? - Exponent Philanthropy

How do board policies work?

Board policies work in tandem with a foundation’s bylaws or trust document to create the foundation’s structure. Bylaws or the trust document are legally binding and based in state law; policies are also considered binding, but they are less likely to be backed by force of law and are easier to amend (e.g., usually by a simple majority vote rather than a super-majority vote).

Written policies will help your board meet its legal responsibilities and clarify expectations among board members and, when applicable, staff. Some foundations operate with many board policies; others, with only a few. The number and type of policies that your board creates and follows depends on the size and scope of your foundation and what you need to operate effectively. A board may choose to set a policy on anything that requires one, depending on the foundation’s needs.

Here are several standard policies that many foundations adopt:

  • Board compensation
  • Board membership and meetings
  • Conflict of Interest
  • Disaster and emergency response
  • Discretionary grants
  • Ethics
  • Fundraiser attendance
  • Investment
  • Personnel
  • Records retention
  • Spending
  • Travel and expense reimbursement
  • Whistle-blower

In addition, boards often document other topics:

  • Advocacy guidelines
  • Board learning plan
  • Board succession plan
  • CEO/executive director/top administrator succession plan
  • Disaster preparation plan
  • Donor intent
  • Grant guidelines
  • Grant strategies
  • Professional development plan
  • Strategic or long-range plan

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