How to Start a Non-Profit // 05

Writing Bylaws & Board Policies

Writing bylaws for a not-for-profit takes a great deal of research and patience. “Many small organizations don’t have bylaws, but that’s a mistake” (Sollenberger, 2008, p. 26). While it is definitely in the corporation’s best interest to work with an attorney, it is not necessary to have the attorney draft them. I personally drafted the bylaws for my corporation and then had an attorney review them to make sure they met all the necessary requirements set forth by New York State. I also wanted to make sure that I covered myself in any case of liability. Since I did not (and do not) plan on having paid employees, I was able to establish a very simple set of bylaws, that still ended up being 22 pages long.

Board policies and procedures are equally important. I currently serve on over ten board of directors, all for not-for-profit organizations and I have found that not having specific board policies and procedures in place, as well as not having a non-profit best management practices in place, can lead from one problem to another. Ironically, it led me into President’s position of a very prestigious board, because personnel issues caused two executive members to resign. I just so happened to be the First Vice-President (therefore next in line). Basically, if this board had previously established guidelines and policies before the issues that had taken place, the circumstances would have never resulted or escalated to the level that they did.

bylaws and polices

Even though in smaller organizations the interpretations are less likely to be very complex, they are nonetheless decisions made by the CEO (or in my case Executive Director) under board authority, and it would be foolhardy for a board to simply trust that reasonableness is established simply by virtue of declaration or assumption (Carver, 2008).

When developing policies and procedures it is important to follow these nine steps:

  1. Identify your organizations need(s)
  2. Identify who will take the lead responsibility or decided if those responsibility will be divided between multiple individuals
  3. Gather information about any legal responsibilities you might have, if there are other organizations going through similar situations as yours, and if there is an existing template you can follow as a guideline
  4. Draft a policy that can be review by your attorney (this will also save you money)
  5. Consult with appropriate professionals (I always research their backgrounds)
  6. Finalize and approve any polices through your board of directors
  7. Consider whether these policies and procedures are absolutely necessary (is there an absolutely need for them)
  8. Implement the policies throughout your organization and make sure any employees know about new policies and procedures, and finally
  9. Always monitor, review and revise your polices

Your organizations policies and procedures will constantly be changing. I serve on many boards that implement and/or amend new polices every year. This is a positive adjustment in my eyes, because it shows that the board and executive director care about their organization and the direction that it is going in.

In a non-profit organization located in Glendale, California, Suzy Jacobs replaced previous executive director, David Marquez, who cut ties with the two-year-old nonprofit in October after getting it off the ground and helping manage a five-year $625,000-federal grant. While Marquez’s role was to establish policies and procedures, Jacobs decided that she also wanted to focus more on expanding the coalition’s presence in the community through her extensive networks (Rocha, 2012). In my opinion it was strategic of Jacobs to tackle establishing new policies and procedures while also expanding the non-profits community presence because she might also get a better understanding of the organization’s specific needs.

Sooner than later,

The Tiny Professional

Sollenberger, H. (2008). Got Bylaws?. Nonprofit World, 26(4), 26-27.
Carver, M. (2008). Demonstrating CEO Performance in Small Organizations. Board Leadership, 2008(96), 1-2.
Rocha, V. (2012, January 12). New exec takes on antidrug coalition. Glendale news-Press (CA).

9 Comment

  1. Wow, thanks for the great information. I know things like this can get confusing, but you made it all sound much simpler :)

  2. Interesting. Sounds like such a challenging job. Thanks for sharing.

  3. ugh I hear the word bylaws and I cringe due to all the silly bylaws we have in our community / HOA. You are right they can be really confusing.

  4. Great information and wise to do most of the work yourself since non-profits usually don’t have the budget for attorney fees!

  5. Rosey says:

    Bylaws can be such an important source when there’s a discrepancy going on the requires a formal rule to clear it up. We had one such challenge at a school I worked for when I moved to Michigan. The bylaws prevented a petty squabble between a PTO and the school principal that was getting v.e.r.y. ugly.

    1. Felicia says:

      There can always be a grey area with bylaws depending on how a person interprets the language. This why is it important to keep your bylaws concise and clear. It it not necessary to have fancy language that will only confuse people!

      The Tiny Professional

  6. Debra says:

    Fabulous information! 22 pages, that is crazy!

  7. This is amazing information! I’m really afraid of everything paper related, it seems that there are so many rules and regulations. Thank you for clarifying them for me!

  8. Thanks for sharing these tips! I’ve worked for a few nonprofits in my time, so this is interesting to see.

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