How to Make a Template Fit Your Organization

posted in: Paperwork, Policies 0

The internet has been a real boon to organizations, both businesses and nonprofits, that need a little help getting started with documents. There are all kinds of templates and samples out there, generally free for the borrowing. Just remember that you often get what you pay for and choose your templates carefully.

Before you look for a template, do a little research on what you should be looking for. Pay attention to state rules that may be different; for instance, Montana employers need to be careful about borrowing at-will language since it is not an at-will state. Check with industry or professional organizations for templates or guidelines.

Once you have a solid template to work with, read it carefully. You need to make sure it fits your organization; even one from the same state and industry is unlikely to be exactly right for you. Assume, just for the fun of it, that someone who needs the information will read it; what do they need to know?

Take out language that doesn’t apply to your organization. Watch for layers of hierarchy and positions that you don’t have. Change the titles to the ones you use. Remove references to kinds of work you don’t do (shop floor for offices, religious efforts for an environmental nonprofit).

Then add in the details you need. Replace “The Company” with your organization’s name, or a shortened version of it. Include the policies or clauses that pertain to you. To the extent that you have flexibility (policy manuals have more than by-laws), put the things that matter most up front. Briefly define special terms when they are first used.

Finally, reread the document closely; better yet, have someone else read it. Look for typos and jumps and unexplained terms. Take some time to make the document readable and professional. For legal documents (by-laws, policy manuals), have a lawyer review them before you file or start using them.

Templates are a great short-cut to a rough draft, but they aren’t a final draft. A good document takes more than changing the name on the front cover, and putting in the effort up front will save time later.