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Best Practices

Here’s a commendably simple, agreeable little perennial that has somehow been allowed to overrun the garden. It refers to the most effective things that organizations do – things, presumably, of which other organizations should be made aware. To refer to the best of an organization’s practices as its, well, BEST PRACTICES is hardly an affront to clarity or plain speaking.

The trouble is that, lately, every time a nonprofit organization manages to get through the day without falling into bankruptcy, a team of researchers moves in, often with generous support from a major foundation, casting about for BEST PRACTICES. The phrase has gotten out of hand.

BEST PRACTICES was coined – advisedly, it seems – to refer to the very best of the practices in a field, not merely all the good ones that could possibly fit into a 100-page report. And in some new and evolving fields, as the nonprofit organization Public/Private Ventures recently argued, there are not yet any practices that can be canonized as “best” – only promising ones that deserve close study and discussion. Our recommendation here is simply to scrutinize the phrase before using it. Are the practices referred to in this context really the best ones? Or are they just effective or interesting? If one of the latter, then it’s best to say so, and save the best for later.


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