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November 11, 2016 Bylaws Review – A Change Will Do You Good


I am sitting at the headquarters of the National Auctioneers Association where members of a state auction association just completed a total rewrite of their association’s bylaws.  The bylaws were last reviewed five years ago and it’s amazing how many changes needed to be implemented.

When was the last time you even looked at your nonprofit’s bylaws?  Do you even know where this document is located?  How long has it been since your organization has reviewed its bylaws?  A review of your bylaws should be done every couple of years. This will ensure you are adhering to your governing documents and that they are current and written to reflect the way your nonprofit is designed to function.

One of the changes you might consider is removing any elements that stifle your nonprofit’s ability to operate optimally in today’s world.  Instead of having detailed processes written into your bylaws, a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) manual can be created.  Processes should really not be in your bylaws unless there is a specific reason to include them there. Though these processes can easily be changed if in a SOP they are harder to adjust if in the bylaws.

Another area you might cleanup is that of committees. I’ve seen as many as 10 standing committees listed in an organizations’ bylaws!  Are these really necessary? Are these committees being utilized?  Consider reducing this number down to include only governance-type committees. But be sure the bylaws allow the board the authority to create committees as necessary. It’s all about flexibility!

Another area to review are the number of board members mandated and the number of years of their term of office.  When I started my service on the National Auctioneers Association (NAA) board several years ago we had 21 board members.  Because of the large size of the board getting everyone properly engaged took forever!  During my tenure, we reduced the number of members down to 13 and also reduced the term length from four years to three years.  Additionally, we conducted periodic board member assessments to make certain we had the skillsets needed to be a well-rounded board.  For example, when a board member who had human resources knowledge rolled off, the nominating/search committee reached out to those among the membership who possessed that particular knowledge and encouraged them to run for the board. As a result of the NAA’s changes, the board members are now much more engaged and the board is a more productive unit.

Get those bylaws out, dust them off and make changes where warranted. The positives that can come from such an exercise will surprise you.

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