What belongs in the bylaws

Einstein said: Make everything as simple as possible but not simpler.

Same goes for bylaws of your nonprofit organization.

You need enough structure in your bylaws to enable to organization to function well, but not so much as to hamstring its work.

If you leave something out of the bylaws:

  • It might be interpreted to mean that the thing is not necessary.
  • It might also mean that the board does not have the power to do that thing.
  • It might mean that there is no reason not to do the thing.
  • Or it might introduce ambiguities.

For example, what would happen if you  leave out any mention of hiring staff?

  • Does that imply that your organization doesn’t need it?
  • Or that the board may not hire staff?
  • If there’s nothing to say they can’t hire someone, then maybe the board will just decide to do it.
  • And then, perhaps, the hiring will be challenged as outside the scope of the board’s role.

For another example, what if we’re talking about dues or fees?  Or new committees?

You can’t plan for every single condition. So think about how you want the organization to run. Consider the plans from the positive.

Be clear about what your organization wants and needs.

How much detail is enough?

Some flexibility is essential.

In my opinion, if every step in a process is spelled out, it must either be central to your mission and, therefore, important to include or … probably not necessary.

Put necessary and detailed rules for the day-to-day running of the organization  in a policies and procedures manual.

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