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Why policies matter

December 2015
By: Tom Lothamer

Many ministries and organizations lack documented operational policies. Reasons vary -- from not taking the time to develop them, to not seeing their importance. 

May I suggest that policies do matter? PCCs that do not have policies in place are open to accusation and in danger of serious financial and other risks. Let me briefly state their value, the types of policies that are important, and how policies are developed and implemented.

Value of developing policies

According to John Carver, the policy governance model of board leadership "enables the board to focus on the larger issues, to delegate with clarity, to control management's job without meddling, to rigorously evaluate the accomplishment of the organization; to truly lead its organization." 

Further, "[i]n contrast to the approaches typically used by boards, policy governance separates issues of organizational purpose (ends) from all other organizational issues (means), placing primary importance on those ends. Policy governance boards demand accomplishment of purpose, and only limit the staff's available means to those which do not violate the board's pre-stated standards of prudence and ethics."1

By way of example, a PCC board might develop a policy that states "all staff and volunteers receive training in pregnancy care ministry prior to working with clients." They might add words describing what that training will entail, such as "thorough knowledge of current abortion practices," "evangelistic emphasis," "integrity and honesty," etc. The end that the board wants the center to realize is a fully trained, competent core of workers.

The PCC's chief executive and staff would then develop procedures relating to the training policy. These are the means of reaching the board's end. Staff leaders decide which training manual will be followed, who will conduct trainings, how often they will be offered, and so on. A system of ongoing supplementary training might also be enacted, and so procedures would spell out whether attendance is mandatory and the consequence for missed sessions.

Definition of policy

1. Prudence or wisdom in the management of affairs; management or procedure based primarily on material interest 

2. A definite course or method of action selected from among alternatives and in light of given conditions to guide and determine present and future decisions; a high-level overall plan embracing the general goals and acceptable procedures especially of a governmental body

Defining good policy

A good policy is:

• Easily understood and written in plain, jargon-free language

• Has a definite purpose for its creation

• Is linked to your strategy

• Is flexible and can adapt to change

• Is suited to the culture of the organization

• Is developed through the involvement of employees and interested stakeholders

• Is communicated to all relevant people.2


Sample Policies

• Conflict of Interest

• Term Limits

• Self-Perpetuating Board

• Board Ethics

• Board Agendas

• Staff Policies

• Financial Policies

How to develop a policy

To develop a policy you must:

• Decide whether this is an area where the board or the executive committee should be determining policy

• Arrange for a sub-group, member of staff or individual trustee to produce a draft policy for discussion

• Discuss (including consultation with trustees, employees, volunteers and service users as applicable) and agree the final version

• In the case of board policy, ensure the entire board ratifies the document and builds in a date for review.3

Final thoughts

• Policies are essential for board governance and ministry operations

• Policies can be changed or updated as new information comes along or there is a changed in mission 

• Policies provide guidance to the board, CEO, staff, and volunteers in decision-making

• Policies provide legal guidance 

Policies flow from the foundational documents upon which a PCC is based -- statement of faith, standards of operation, mission and vision statements. Ideally, written policies and procedures should be compiled in a manual and disseminated to all staff and volunteers.

The Standards for Excellence manual from Life Matters Worldwide is a helpful resource for getting started writing policies and procedures.

Tom Lothamer is president of Life Matters Worldwide. He can be reached by email or phone: 1-800-968-6086, (616) 257-6800. He would be happy to consult with you regarding this area of ministry operations.


1. The Carver Policy Governance® Model -

2. Reprinted with permission from the Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness -

3. Adapted from The Good Trustee Guide from (NCVO) -

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