Standards and Practices – Are You Compliant?

Standards and Practices – Are You Compliant?

Dear Board Director:

Does your organization have a Conflict of Interest Policy?
Do you – specifically you – know what it says and how to use it?
Could you provide evidence that it is being used?

How about a Gift Acceptance Policy, an Investment Policy, or an Internal Controls Policy?


How about an Easement Defense Policy, a Human Resources Policy, or a Records Retention Policy?

The truth is that most board directors are substantially unaware of how the organization is supposed to work, and therefore effectively incapable of exercising their role in Governance. If you find that this shoe fits you, or perhaps others on your board, I have a suggestion for you:

Introduce a substantive discussion about board governance into the agenda at a board meeting at least every quarter.

Here’s how:

The Land Trust Alliance publishes a set of Standards and Practices to serve as guidelines for the land trust community nationwide. There are twelve Standards that are considered minimal performance expectations of land trusts, and documented adherence to them is required for consideration as an “accredited” land trust. The first seven of the Standards are generally applicable for any non-profit organization, whereas the last five are specific to land trusts and land trust business. (If you are not representing a land trust, there are almost certainly similar, mission-specific standards you could adopt for your particular non-profit.)

Delegate each Standard to one of the board directors as a “Standard-Bearer.” Each designated board member begins by reading carefully through the specific Standard and its subordinate Practices. S/he also reads through the by-laws, relevant organizational policies, and current strategic and operational plans, looking for vertical consistency. S/he becomes the board “expert” for that Standard. And s/he explicitly seeks unambiguous examples of organizational compliance with all policies. (It’s not enough to simply have a policy – it must be used, and its use should be documented.)

At a designated board meeting, s/he reports formally on the Standard, noting all the practices and policies underneath it, and offering an opinion as to the degree to which the organization is currently compliant. S/he offers recommendations for improvement or wording changes as appropriate. Any specific discrepancies are noted and recommended action brought to the board’s attention.

I generally recommend that board directors report on these Standards at board meetings, at least one per calendar quarter, and that the reports cycle through the Standards on a regular basis. Any organization could thus cycle through the first seven Standards every two years. Land Trusts could cycle through all twelve every three years.

This is a terrific role for first-year board members. They benefit from knowing the organization that much more intimately, and the organization benefits from having a fresh set of eyes looking critically at the way it does its business every couple of years or so.

As an added bonus, when the Accreditation Commission (or anyone else) asks whether your land trust is compliant with one of your policies, you’ll know!


David Allen, Development for Conservation


Photo by Pete Ter Louw – courtesy Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy

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