How to Create Bylaws
How to Create Bylaws
The purpose of bylaws is to lay out the rules of conduct and authority for your board of directors and officers, and, as a nonprofit, you need to have them. Even if they weren’t mandated in most states, you would want to have them. Without bylaws, meetings could be chaotic and unproductive as board members make up the rules as they go along. As a child, did you ever play a board game with an annoying opponent who did that? It was no fun and made it less likely you’d want to play again. You would want to avoid both the game and the game player.
Set up your bylaws with clear rules and simple language so that any member or board member can easily understand and follow them. The board members’ duties should be spelled out plainly now to avoid confusion later. Your board members are a valuable resource. You don’t want them to pick up their marbles and go home in frustration.
Bylaws are also invaluable in defining the purpose of your organization, how often you will conduct meetings, how the meetings will be conducted, the terms of the board members, elections, what constitutes a quorum, how to handle vacancies, finances, and how to amend the bylaws. It’s better to say “the board may create committees as needed” than to say “committees will consist of membership, fundraising” and so on. That way, it will be easier later to add or eliminate committees and task forces (temporary committees formed to tackle a specific task). It’s preferable to say “the board appoints all committee chairs” than for committee members to elect a committee chairperson. That can be cumbersome and awkward.
Bylaws can give the board freedom to conduct business without overly restrictive language. Otherwise, too much time will be spent amending the bylaws and not enough time tending to your mission, the reason you began your organization.
The task of writing the bylaws can be intimidating. Thanks to the Internet and/or the public library, you can easily access free sample bylaws and tailor them to your organization. Two of the best websites we found are http://users.aristotle.net/~nonprofit/startup/bylaws.htm
. Each has disclaimers, cautioning users to consult a competent source. This is not bad advice. Once the bylaws are written, the board should approve them. Go through each item one by one and discuss before taking a vote so all of the board members can express their viewpoints and everyone will know what they are approving.
Put together a board orientation looseleaf binder which includes your organization's articles of incorporation, bylaws, policies, and other information that will assist all of the board members to comprehend and embrace their role. Presenting an orderly binder will save everyone’s precious time at meetings that might otherwise be spent ruffling through disorganized piles of irrelevant paper. This small task won’t take much time, but it is a thoughtful, professional, and efficient thing to do!
By putting some time, thought, and energy into writing coherent bylaws now, you will reap the rewards later when the key players in your organization have a clear understanding of the rules. Later, if the bylaws need to be changed, they can be amended accordingly. They are your bylaws. Make them work for you.