Policies, Procedures, Plans, and Practices


Policies are "principles, rules, and guidelines formulated or adopted by an organization to reach its long-term goals" (www.BusinessDictionary.com). Policies are guiding principles about how business should be conducted, and they generally outline standards of conduct, conformity with legal responsibilities and guidelines, and consistent ways of handling situations. Policies should reflect the organization's mission and values.


  • Be written in clear and simple language
  • Include a clear statement of the reason for the policy
  • Be approved by the Board of Directors, and include the date of approval on each policy
  • Conform with all applicable laws (some policies may need legal review)


Procedures are "the specific methods employed to express policies in action in day-to-day operations of the organization" (www.BusinessDictionary.com). It is extremely important that policies and procedures are consistent with each other. If a procedure contradicts a policy, neither the policy nor the procedure is valid. It is often suggested that procedures should be separate from policies, rather than included within policies, because procedures should be flexible and more easily changed than policies.


  • Contain enough information so that a staff person knows what to do
  • Be clearly written
  • Conform to the requirements of any applicable policies and all relevant laws
  • Be posted or distributed as specified in the relevant policy or procedure, and as common sense dictates
  • Be reviewed and revised as needed to meet the agency's changing needs and conditions (again, ensure that any changes maintain consistency with policy or other requirements)
  • Refer to positions rather than to specific staff members by name, so that they don't have to be changed with each personnel change.

It is recommended that several people (with different levels of knowledge) review and critique new procedures to ensure clarity. Written procedures should provide enough information so that additional verbal instructions are not necessary.


A plan differs from a set of procedures in that it is generally more specific as to who will do each task, and when it is to be done. Unlike a set of procedures, a plan may "name names" by identifying the people responsible for each item, and it should ordinarily include target dates and documentation of progress made. Many agencies have developed strategic plans, which often identify key objectives to be met over a specific time period, such as a year.


  • Include specific objectives and the tasks necessary to accomplish those objectives
  • Name the individuals or groups responsible for each task
  • Provide dates by which tasks will be completed
  • Specify how success will be measured or gauged, if appropriate
  • Indicate progress toward objectives


Practices are the way things are ordinarily done in a place of business. They may include formal procedures, but often they are the result of organizational culture and habits that have accumulated over time. They should be reviewed occasionally to determine whether they conform to the organization's mission, philosophy, policies, and formal procedures. Sometimes organizations "drift" into doing things in a particular manner that is not the most effective or ethical way of handling the situation.