Defining Your Organization
Why was your organization formed? What is its purpose? Who will make decisions in your organization, and how will they be made? How will you attract members and what will their responsibilities be? Which office positions will you need, and which responsibilities will be associated with each one? How and when will officers be elected? How much will it cost to operate your organization, and where will the funds come from?
These are some of the questions you are encouraged to discuss and answer in a proactive manner with as many members as possible. The answers will be the foundation for a constitution and bylaws.
Many organizations can function effectively for a period of time without a constitution or bylaws. This is especially true when the group consists mainly of the original members. Eventually, however, questions like "Who gets to be president now that you are graduating?" or "How was it decided that we have to pay $10 in dues each semester?" begin to arise. Drafting a constitution and bylaws will let members discuss and decide what the organization is and how it operates in a deliberate manner rather than shooting from the hip when a question arises or a decision needs to be made.
A constitution clearly defines the purpose of an organization, the offices members can hold, and qualifications for membership. Follow this link for an overview of a Constitution.
Bylaws are concerned with process — how your organization gets things done. They answer questions like "How often do we meet?," "Who gets to vote?," and "Who can be a member?" Bylaws can typically be changed much more easily than a constitution, usually by a simple majority vote at a meeting where there is a quorum.
Bylaws are extremely important to organizations where the leadership is in constant transition and the membership turns over frequently, like student organizations. If your organization seems to be straying or begins to dispute a matter, a referral to your bylaws may help clear things up. Bylaws are vital to the long-term success of an organization because they provide structure and continuity from one year to the next. If at some point the bylaws you have are not working, they can be easily changed. Follow this link for an overview of Bylaws.