If you are a board member of a nonprofit organization, do you know how to find your bylaws? Have you reviewed them at a meeting this year? Do you know how to make updates? Do you understand them?
Bylaws are akin to a roadmap, providing guidance on how the nonprofit organization should function. They outline the roles and responsibilities of board members, the decision-making processes, and the organization's overall structure. A clear understanding of the bylaws enables board members to work harmoniously and effectively, ensuring the organization functions efficiently.
Too often nonprofits don’t focus on the bylaws themselves until they are facing a crisis. This is a big risk for nonprofit board members. Even with strong leadership and an established board, things happen. Having a framework to guide you through change (unexpected or expected) is critical.
Here are a few thoughts and recommendations on how to utilize your bylaws to strengthen your board work.
Equipping New Board Members: When new board members join a nonprofit organization, providing them with a copy of the bylaws is crucial. By familiarizing themselves with the bylaws, new members can ground themselves in the policies and procedures of the board. We strongly recommend having a bylaw review as part of the new members onboarding process.
Training for Board Members: Bylaws can be complex legal documents, and interpreting them correctly requires knowledge and expertise. We recommend making annual training for Board members that include bylaw review and understanding.
Navigating (or Avoiding) a Crisis: Bylaws lay out the procedures for handling various situations, such as conflicts of interest, financial management, or leadership succession. We recommend following the bylaws to the letter during a perceived “crisis”. This will avoid further conflict and ensure the process is transparent.
Regular Review of Bylaws: Bylaws are created when an organization is created, but as technology, environmental and other factors change, bylaws need to be reviewed and updated regularly. We recommend nonprofit boards have a standing or ad-hoc governing committee, who is assigned this responsibility to bring forward changes bi-annually at a minimum.
Bylaws should be Accessible: Ensure bylaws are readily available to all stakeholders, particularly the membership. This transparency cultivates trust and empowers members to actively participate in the organization's affairs. We recommend that organizations link them to your website.
Ultimately, when board members have a solid understanding of their bylaws they can do a better job ensuring the nonprofit organizations they support can navigate their mission with confidence.
If you are a board member and can’t access your bylaws quickly, reach out to your Chair or staff and request a copy. Bring it up at a board meeting and ask questions.
If you need help reviewing, updating and/or training your board we can help! Square Root Consulting has decades of experience working with nonprofit boards. Let’s schedule a call and explore how we can help.