By-Laws for Volunteer Organizations

June 15, 2011 by  Filed under: Management 

After a volunteer organization is established and community support grows, it should adopt a consistent method for handling activities. Many groups define their methods in a short document called by-laws, usually written by an ad-hoc committee and voted on by the entire membership.

Section 1 – Name and Purpose of the Organization

The first section should state the name and purpose (or mission) of the volunteer organization. These important details establish the parameters of the good work that the volunteers plan to undertake. If the organization is non-profit, include the tax status, such as 501(c)3. Since there are several types of tax-exempt organizations, consult a tax specialist and file an application to obtain a tax ID number.

Section 2 – Officers and Standing Committees

Use this section to define the leaders of the organization and their roles and responsibilities. Every organization needs a leader, such as president or chairman; however, other roles can be combined. For example, there can be separate a secretary and treasurer, or a combination office covering both communications and financial duties. Standing committees should handle various aspects of the organization, and each chairman can be part of an executive board. Since fundraising and membership are needed by almost every organization, these committees are good for the start-up organization.

Section 3 – Activities

In this section, outline the events and activities the organization will undertake in general terms. Do not be too specific about individual activities as community needs may change over time. The activities should be in line with the parameters established in Section 1.

Section 4 – Membership Definitions & Levels

The definition of a member should be covered in this section. If various levels are planned, (such as student, senior, family, etc.), provide the qualifications for each level. Do not include membership fees, or the by-laws will need constant revision every time a fee changes. Let the membership committee decide the amount of annual fees.

Section 5 – Meetings

Every organization has meetings. A general meeting for all members should be held at least once per year. The executive board and committee chairmen should meet more often, and the frequency of those meetings should be included in this section.

Section 6 – Nomination & Election of Officers

As time goes by, the organization leadership will change. Use this section to define the process for electing or appointing new leaders. If the organization prefers elections, a nominating committee can propose candidates and hold an election at the meeting for the entire membership. As an alternative, the election can be held by mailing ballots to the members. The committee counts the returned ballots and announces the winners of the election.

Section 7 – Amendments to By-Laws

Changes will be necessary as the organization grows or changes its service to the community. The change should be proposed by the leaders and voted on by the members. Send an advance notification of the change to the members so they can plan to attend the meeting.

Written by-laws are especially important if the organization plans on applying for grants in the future. The published document will show that the organization has a purpose, leadership structure, and defined operating procedures.

Copyright 2011, Alice Dusenberry

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