By Cody Lents, Partner at COVI, Inc.
Bylaws can be tricky – especially when discussing if those very guidelines are either helping or hindering your non-profit. Several key factors can help you decide if it’s time to change your organization’s bylaws. It is always best to start by looking at the basics and gain a full understanding of what your bylaws do – or don’t do – and if they are providing the essential foundation for how your organization is governed and operated.
As a general rule, bylaws should be reviewed and, if needed, amended at least every few years to ensure they are still relevant. Before making any changes, it’s essential to look for any indications that something may not be working and anticipate changes that could cause issues in the future. Organizations that have a scheduled bylaw review often find that they are able to avoid outdated language and processes while adapting to current needs.
Oftentimes, bylaws can become too restrictive. For example, if your bylaws require too high of a percentage of the board to agree on a decision, it might create a situation where the process is getting in the way of actually accomplishing your mission. It’s important that rules or expectations set within an organization’s bylaws are not too limiting or unrealistic, while preserving the needed stability to operate and accomplish your goals and ensure all board members have a true voice.
Another common issue is ambiguity in bylaws. While vague language might seem tempting in the drafting process as a way to not create overly restrictive bylaws, stronger language helps create less guesswork in the future as boards and staff turnover. Bylaws should be clear and simple whenever possible while anticipating future needs and changes. This helps to remove potential questions and give true guidance that can stand the test of time.
Outdated, restrictive, or ambiguous bylaws can often lead to frustration from board members and staff, which can lead to an organization not meeting their full potential. Getting a strong understanding of your bylaws and the potential changes that they need can help ensure your organization is ready now and in the future. Maybe it’s time for a review?
Similar to bylaws, technology solutions and strategy should be reviewed regularly for alignment with your mission, employee, volunteer, and programming initiatives. People always come first. Process is necessary for efficiency and scalability. And, though technology may be the last on this list, it should not serve as a frustrating bottleneck or lifeless distraction. Like bylaws, technology strategy should protect, support, and breathe life into your organization.