When you first opened your non-profit, your team likely established a set of non-profit bylaws that have since governed the way your organization conducts itself. Whether it’s been a year, five years, or a decade, your first set of by-laws likely need to be edited.
The reason for this is simple: your first set of bylaws are in place just for your organization to become established. Once you’re up and running, you’ll understand the actual mechanics of your organization, what actually goes into its day-to-day operations, and the proper bylaws you should have set in place. That’s why it doesn’t matter how long it’s been since your first set of bylaws– you should always update them as soon as you can. If you’ve already revised your bylaws and are unsure if it’s time for additional revisions, we’ll answer all of your questions about when it might be time to do so.
As a new non-profit, you may have gone through the steps of a non-profit consultation, used a template, or mirrored an existing organization’s bylaws just to get you started. Those methods work well for anyone getting a foot into the door, but once you’re established, it’s time to revisit those bylaws. Shortcuts are an easy way to expedite the process in the beginning, but you’ll need something more individualized to sustain your organization.
When you’re first starting out, you can only work off of the vision and mission you have for your organization. You don’t actually know what daily operations will look like. After you’ve grown familiar with how aligned your vision is to the reality of your non-profit, you’ll have a better understanding of what non-profit bylaws are needed for your specific organization.
Take note of what your expectations versus your reality are. Perhaps you expected quarterly meetings to be sufficient, but, you require monthly meetings. Maybe you need 10 board members instead of 20. Once you’re able to distinguish these details with a degree of certainty, it’s time to compare those realities to what your first non-profit bylaws outlined. Specifically, you should keep tabs on which bylaws are obviously outdated and which could use revision in general. Maybe you forgot something that could now be added, or you need to include an unexpected bylaw that you discovered after launching your non-profit. Regardless, it’s time to get an update drafted. You can easily do so via a non-profit consultation, or you can mend the discrepancies yourself.
Just as you should do after rolling out the actual operations aspect of your foundation, every organization should conduct an annual (at the minimum) bylaw review. Many organizations establish their non-profit bylaws and hardly, if ever, glance at them again. Even less have them memorized. An annual bylaw review paired with a non-profit consultation will ensure your bylaws are up to date and your nonprofit is on the correct trajectory for growth and success.
Once you review the bylaws, it’s simple. You need to go through them each and individually determine whether they are still applicable to your foundation. After you’ve eliminated the irrelevant or outdated bylaws, you can begin drafting a new set or adding to the remaining bylaws.
A common mistake usually made during this process is creating bylaws that reflect how your board currently operates. While this isn’t technically incorrect, it will only create another set of bylaws that require complete modification down the line. The reason for this is that you should always draft bylaws based on how you would like to see your organization operate, not how it is currently operating. Doing this ensures you are constantly working towards a goal rather than complying with wherever your board is presently at. If your future vision for the board aligns with some of their current practices, include those practices in the bylaws. The non-profit bylaws as a whole, however, should not be completely reflective of the exact behaviors your board engages in currently.
The process of drafting new bylaws is easy, but the actual implementation may be a bit confusing. There is a formal process that must be upheld and followed during every bylaw update, and it can get complicated depending on the length, detail, and specifics of your organization’s bylaws. On top of it all, your non-profit bylaws are more than just guidelines for your foundation; in fact, they are legally binding. The likelihood of a lawsuit from one of your staff or board members may be slim, but it’s never zero. It’s better to be safe rather than sorry in these cases.
Schedule a non-profit consultation with KM Clark to get started on updating your old non-profit bylaws. We make the process easy and painless, and we can help your organization’s operations reflect its vision.