Developing a Constitution and Bylaws
The Rules of Your Organization
Naturally, your non-profit organization is bound by the legal and financial regulations of your province and region. But in addition to those, you’ll also need to develop your own internal constitution and bylaws. These rules, which must be decided on and approved by the board of directors, will govern the operations of your organization.
The Scope of a Constitution
Your non-profit’s constitution has two goals:
- To state the purpose of your non-profit organization
- To define the organization’s structure
It establishes, among other things, the number of directors, the length of directorial terms, and the powers and duties of the board. A constitution details all of the procedures for the organization, from how minutes are entered and distributed, to how votes are conducted. Further, a constitution needs to outline the procedure for making changes and amendments to the constitution itself.
A constitution can be fairly simple, or incredibly complex. In general, the larger your organization is, and the larger the geographical area it services, the more complicated your constitution will need to be.
For a non-profit organization that you operate largely from home to the benefit of people in your immediate neighbourhood, your constitution may be only a single page in length. For a national organization, with directors serving regionally and flying across the country for annual meetings, you'll need a fairly lengthy constitution.
If your organization is incorporated, you'll not only have a board of directors for the organization, but officers for the corporation as well. The Articles of Incorporation will detail the roles of the directors, but the constitution must be drafted in full awareness of the relationship that exists between board members and officers.
Writing a Constitution and Bylaws
Even a simple constitution is an important legal document. With that in mind, it's probably a good idea to involve an attorney with experience in non-profit law. Keep in mind, it’s not easy to amend a constitution once it's approved, so make sure that it not only serves the organization in the early stages, but that it will also be able to stand the test of time if your organization grows.