Best Practice or Conventional Wisdom? . . . Editor Commentary 9.15.09
When a teenager does something because "the cool kids are doing it," we call it "caving in to peer pressure." But as Michael Gilbert points out, when a nonprofit does something for the same reasons, we call it "following best practices."
Because the term "best practice" implies a technique or method that has been proven effective, the term also confers a kind of authority and implies near-universal acceptance (or at least by the cool kids). This is undoubtedly more appropriate when discussing handwashing as a best practice for restaurant workers than when discussing whether the executive director should be a voting member of the board.
In fact, the term "best practice" is frequently heard when advocating for a procedure or rule which seems like a good idea but for which the speaker can't think of (or admit to) having real reasons for it.Â In a board meeting it's easier to say, "Best practices are to have no more than five committees," than to say, "I think we have too many committees."
In fact, of course, what works for one organization doesn't work for another, or even for the first organization at a later point. And the phrase "best practice" usually has a chilling effect on any conversation, dampening both dissent and creativity.
Let's be more honest and accountable and use these phrases instead:
- "I think doing X is a good idea because . . ."
- "Blue Avocado (or someone else) suggests X as an effective practice for situations like ours where _____ is needed."
- "I've read that some organizations are doing X and having success with it. I'm thinking it might be good for us, too."
In the meantime, don't forget that reprinting Blue Avocado articles is also a best practice! :)Â [Click here for reprint info.]
* This issue we challenge some common "best" practices and ideas: that all nonprofits need audits, that audit costs can't be reduced, that we're "just" nonprofits, and that board members should be expected to make donations. Plus an article on Instant Messaging (IMs) in nonprofits, a follow-up on sector-switching, and more. Watch out! --Jan MasaokaÂ