Developing a Constitution & Bylaws

The Rules of Your Organization

Aside from having to obey the legal and financial regulations of your province and region, a non-profit organization needs its own internal constitution and bylaws. These rules, which must be decided on and approved by the board of directors, will govern all the operations of your organization.

The Scope of a Constitution

Aside from stating the purpose of your non-profit organization, a constitution also defines its 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 draft your constitution with the assistance of an attorney experienced in non-profit law. Furthermore, since it is not always easy to amend a constitution once it's approved, make sure that it not only serves the organization in the early stages, but that it will also be adequate when your organization expands.