Creating Policy in a Changing Organization: Five Takeaways


BUILDing for Growth is a customized, capacity-building program that was developed by La Piana Consulting in collaboration with the Ford Foundation’s BUILD initiative. The program includes Communities of Practice which are facilitated peer learning groups that meet monthly.

Autumn Valdez, Business Director, BlackStar Projects

Creating Policy in a Changing Organization

The theme in BUILDing for Growth’s Communities of Practice this winter was “Creating Policy in a Changing Organization.” Rapid growth organizations often experience a tipping point when they realize they need to create more formal or standard policies and protocols. Sometimes that tipping point is clear, as in the case of compliance thresholds, but often, the need emerges more perniciously as staff, budgets, and programs grow. Once identified, it is often a challenge for leaders to enact new policies that balance consistency with the flexibility and individuality many veteran staff have become accustomed to.

We recently sat down for an interview with BlackStar’s Business Director, Autumn Valdez, who generously shared her experience with effectively implementing new policies in her growing organization. While Autumn focuses on financial accounting procedures, her practices and philosophies can be extrapolated to any department – from those more strictly governed by legal implications like HR and governance, to those that feel “softer” until they’re not, like development (gift acceptance policies), marketing and communication (branding fidelity and crisis PR procedures), and IT (data security and digital retention procedures).

Here are five key takeaways from Autumn’s calm and confident approach to creating and implementing policy for organizations who have reached their “tipping point”:

Click on each header to hear more from Autumn.

Communicate the “WHY”

When Autumn and the leadership team rolled out new accounting policies and project management software, they didn’t just set forth new procedures, which could feel “really tedious to folks who have been doing the same thing for a long time.” They made sure the team understood that this was something everyone needed to adopt to protect the organization, to keep it safe, and to ultimately make BlackStar stronger for the future.

Make it Fun

Autumn uses creative positive reinforcement (as well as some lighthearted “dings”) to make following new rules part of the organization’s culture. In an organization filled with creatives, her “extremely specific catered memes” have since become a “really strong motivator” incentivizing “good” behavior. By giving memed praise and showing appreciation for small, but important things like “zero uncoded credit card transactions,” she’s even created some healthy competition to get one of these rewards while improving the organization’s accounting controls.

Plan for the Future

Autumn shouted out BlackStar’s Chief Operations Officer Sara Zia Ebrahimi who likes to say, “administration, when it’s working really well, people don’t notice that it’s happening.” The policies BlackStar put into place last spring were essential in moving BlackStar forward because they allowed for everything to move a little bit more smoothly, yet invisibly, behind-the-scenes, they could grow programs, evolve, and thrive. As they look forward, Autumn is thinking about new policies that will not just meet their current needs, but the needs of the organization’s future.

Keep It Alive

Revising and revisiting policy shouldn’t be torture and generally, policies should be agile enough to adjust to the current reality or changed circumstances of the organization and the world. Autumn keeps policies alive by making small tweaks as needed, revisiting certain policies quarterly, and blocking out, organizationally, a time when everyone isn’t programmatically up against the wall to revisit and revise policies once a year to make sure that they are aligned with reality and forward thinking.

Don’t Be Afraid

Autumn’s advice – “If this isn’t your favorite thing, don’t be afraid…remember why you are doing it—for your own sanity and for the good of the organization…It’s worth it in the end and it’ll ultimately make you stronger.”

Watch the interview highlights here. And find out more about Autumn Valdez and BlackStar, a nonprofit that creates the spaces and resources needed to uplift the work of Black, Brown, and Indigenous artists working outside of the confines of genre. BlackStar’s upcoming program highlights include:

Finally, follow @blackstarfest on social media!

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