Bylaws Guidelines for Volunteer Organizations

Every organization should have its own Bylaws or Constitution.

Webster defines “Constitution” as a “making up, the way in which a person or thing is made up, structure, organization; the system of basic laws and principles of a government, society, etc.; a document stating these.”

By Laws are defined as the “local application of law adopted by an organization, secondary law.”

Robert’s Rules of Order states that constitutions and by laws were once separate, but it is common practice today to combine these two documents into one called Bylaws. The Bylaws of an organization “contain its own basic rules that relate to itself as an organization.” Bylaws outline the rights and duties of the organization’s members.

When drafting a new set of Bylaws, the committee must be aware of the structure of your organization. If you are a committee of a larger organization, such as your symphony’s governing body, and fall within that organization’s 501(C)3, you do not legally you’re your own Bylaws. However, many groups choose to write Bylaws which must be in compliance with the parent organization’s Bylaws. Once the committee has drafted the Bylaws, the document should be reviewed by a registered parliamentarian and an attorney to assure compliancy with the parent organization and state and federal laws governing 501(C)3 organizations.

Bylaws should deal with the very basic elements of organizational structure. Rules and regulations that will be applicable for many years should be in Bylaws. Bylaws are difficult to change as they serve as protection for the membership. Issues that change frequently should be covered in Policy Sheets. These are far easier to revise.

The basic contents of Bylaws are as follows: 

Article I. Name of the organization

Article II. Object

Article III. Members

Article IV. Officers

Article V. Meetings

Article VI. Board (or Board of Directors)

Article VII. Executive Board

Article VIII. Committees

Article IX. Parliamentary Authority 

Article X. Amendment of Bylaws 

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