Know the rules

Last weekend my family sat down to play a new game,  Cleopatra And The Society of Architects. In general, I hate games. (I have a terrible time waiting for my turn.)  But this one was pretty cool. It has some interesting strategy twists.

What’s that have to do with bylaws?

My daughter had played the game the day before with friends who were intent on figuring it out. She said they had to keep rereading the instructions to figure out how to play. And it took them about two hours.  No doubt there were probably side conversations about the merits of the game in addition to the rules that helped stretch it out. Nevertheless, it took a long time.

When she explained and reread the instructions for us, it went a little faster and she was a little more clear about what was supposed to happen.

We were playing that game for fun on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Imagine if you were trying to decide on the next program of your nonprofit organization.  That could be a problem.

If no one knows the rules, the board spends time every time deciding how to decide. What a waste of resources! On top of that, if one person thinks he/she knows the rules, then you can make bad decisions based on inaccurate information. This is also a recipe for problems.

Board members should read and understand the bylaws. And all members of the organization should have access to the currently approved set. But it’s human nature to avoid tasks that might be onerous or complicated. Bylaws would seem to be both. The best defense for this problem is to make the bylaws as easy to read as possible. Bylaws written in plain English as much as possible are more likely to be read, understood and used by the people in your organization who need to understand and use them.

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