BlogOrganizational Management How To Write Association Bylaws: 10 Steps (+ Sample!) Organizational Management How To Write Association Bylaws: 10 Steps (+ Sample!) Author: Sonia Urlando April 28, 2023 Contents 🕑 9 min read From nominating chair members, to assigning responsibilities, to drafting member rights, there’s a ton that goes into managing an association. But what if you had a guidebook to help you make decisions at every step of the way? That’s where association bylaws come in! While association bylaws may seem like complicated legal jargon at first, they are a key way to keep associations running smoothly from the inside out. We’ll help turn you into an association bylaw pro in no time with our helpful guide! What are association bylaws? Simply put, association bylaws are the legal guidelines for internal operations that an association needs to follow. They include the rules, regulations and processes that map out how to run an association day-to-day. Associations of all sizes and purposes use bylaws to provide a consistent structure for guiding their teams. Association bylaws cover a range of topics like an organization’s purpose, how meetings should be run and membership requirements. By ironing out these details, associations can stay focused and save time when navigating operations thanks to having established standards in place. Plus, bylaws can help organizations know how to act when confusing or tough situations arise. What’s the difference between articles of association vs bylaws? Articles of association are another type of legal document that can get confused with bylaws. Both documents are playbooks for an association’s operations but have several key differences. Articles of association: Provide a general outline of an association’s organizational makeup Offer a broad framework for an association Include general details about the association Are a public document Cost money to amend Association bylaws: Provide a more detailed outline of an association’s organizational makeup Can be linked to individual laws Include detailed rules and procedures for managing an association Are not always freely accessible to the public and are kept with the association’s records Are free to amend What should be included in association bylaws? Just glancing at another association’s bylaws may leave you feeling overwhelmed by how detailed it is. After all, there’s so much to cover about how your association operates! To help get you started with writing your bylaws, check out what’s typically included in them: Name of your organization: Not only should you include the official name of your association but you also need to use any other names and abbreviations that refer to your organization, such as the HOA for the Home Owners Association Information about your central office: State where your central office is located (and make sure you keep a copy of your finalized bylaws there!) Purpose of your organization: From tackling a particular cause to supporting multiple groups, by clearly outlining the purpose of your association you can help everyone stay on track Financial recording processes and responsibilities: Detail how financial records will be kept, when audits will be held, if gifts are accepted, how payments are received and who processes them Makeup of your members, board, committees and any other groups within the organization: Outline the hierarchy of your association to identify the chain in command such as the Director being overseen by the Board Board nomination and election process: Explain how board members will be appointed, how the election process will be conducted and how long their term will be Frequency of elections: If you have many leadership positions with specific term lengths, map out how often elections will be held Frequency of meetings: Determine how often meetings will be held and who needs to attend them Membership qualifications: Decide who qualifies as a member based on characteristics like age, profession or interest Member rights and responsibilities: Cover what members’ rights are, their limitations, requirements like mandatory fees and attendance as well as when memberships can be revoked Voting process: Decide who can vote and when decisions need to be made unanimously or by majority vote Amendment process: As your association grows it’s likely that you’ll need to amend your bylaws at some point. Explain how the process will work like holding an open discussion on the topic followed by a majority vote. 10 steps for writing bylaws for an association There’s plenty of work that goes into writing bylaws, so let’s break down what you need to get writing! 1. Research Get started with some old fashioned research. Association bylaws are regulated differently depending on where you’re located so make sure that you know your local laws and regulations. Check out local associations’ bylaws so you can get an idea for what you’ll need to include. 2. Form a committee Decide who’ll be writing the bylaws such as the board or by creating a bylaw committee. Forming a committee is a great option since you can have perspectives from people all across your association. The committee will also collect all the information needed for writing the bylaws. When you’re ready to get writing, decide if there will be a single writer or if sections of the document will be divided up among the committee. Also, establish what the review processes will be. Determine who’ll be involved in the review, if the bylaws need unanimously approved and what the revision process is. 3. Create the structure Association bylaws can get pretty long! Keep things organized and make information easy to find by creating a table of contents. Whether you need to quickly find information during a conflict or want to make amendments, having a table of contents will help you pinpoint the exact section you’re looking for. Breaking up the sections of your bylaws, such as your association’s purpose, meeting structure and voting rules are also helpful if you decide to have multiple bylaw writers. This way, the people who’ll be most involved with these duties can use their expertise to write them. 4. Outline your organization’s key roles and responsibilities It takes plenty of people to run an association. From the president to the board and everyone down the chain of command, include every key role and its responsibilities. While outlining this information for key roles make sure to include the following: Who is eligible What’s the role’s nomination method What’s the role’s term limit What’s the role’s attendance requirement What powers does this role have What calls for impeachment 5. Establish your meeting rules Meetings are a key part of running any association. Keep every meeting on track by laying down meeting rules. Consider the types of meetings that your association will have like general meetings, annual finance meetings and special meetings. You’ll need to define: What types of meetings can be held Who can call meetings How often meetings will be How long will meetings be Who needs to participate in meetings Who will make the agenda and how can topics be added to it Who gets to take the floor What the voting procedure will be Who will take minutes and how will they be shared 6. Define your membership If your association accepts members, you’ll need to cover the ins and outs of memberships. Be sure to include: Membership requirements (like age or occupation) Membership fees (if needed) Membership length Minimum attendance requirements Member rights such as voting and access to exclusive events When memberships need to be revoked 7. Address finances You’ll need to define your association’s finances. Detail how funds come in, what the expenses are, how the books will be kept and who is responsible for them. Decide if you’ll hold regular financial meetings to keep key members in the loop, regularly publish financial reports and hold annual audits. Financial transparency is a great way to build trust with members of your association and the community that you serve. 8. Outline the amendment process Think of bylaws as evergreen documents that can be updated as your association grows over time. Your association may also want to regularly meet to discuss if the current bylaws accurately reflect the association’s direction and if any sections need clarification. By mapping out the amendment process beforehand, you can make sure that any amendments can be made fairly and promptly. You’ll need to decide: Who can propose amendments If a meeting will be held to discuss amendments How many votes are needed to pass an amendment After making any amendments, make sure to share a new copy of your bylaws with your team, print a copy for your headquarters and resubmit it to government agencies if needed. 9. Edit and finalize Now you should have the first draft of your bylaws ready to share with the rest of the committee! Set up a meeting for the committee to go over the association bylaws so everyone can discuss their thoughts, raise concerns and propose additional sections. Send over the first draft well before the meeting so everyone can come prepared. During the meeting, ask the group if the bylaws are fair and evenly distribute power within the association. Don’t feel rushed to complete the bylaws in just one meeting. It’s best to take your time and make sure that everyone in the committee feels heard. Before finalizing your bylaws, it can be helpful to share them with a legal professional to be certain that you’re complying with local rules and regulations. 10. Start using them! Nice job, your bylaws are ready to go! Give copies to key members, make the document easily accessible whenever a team member needs it and have a copy on hand at headquarters. Now it’s time to use your bylaws. Key members should always keep the bylaws in mind when working to ensure that everything is being run fairly and consistently. Whenever your association is unsure about how to tackle a situation, refer to your bylaws. Association bylaws sample For an association bylaws template, let’s take a look at the Association Forum’s bylaws. This Chicago based association works to share resources, education and networking opportunities for association management professionals. The Association Forum’s bylaws have a dedicated page on their website. A table of contents makes every section of the bylaws easy to find. Every section is easy to read with clear subsections to break down nuances. While looking at other association bylaws can be helpful, do not copy them because those bylaws might not fit your association’s needs or comply with your local laws. FAQs When working on association bylaws, there are two common questions that come up. How can association bylaws be amended? Association bylaws can be amended at any time and for free. To amend bylaws you’ll need to: Propose the amendment Set up a meeting to discuss the amendment Vote on the amendment If the amendment is approved, update your bylaws with the new amendment Share the updated bylaws with your team, have a new copy at your headquarters and resubmit it with governing agencies if needed Where can I find association bylaws? You can find bylaws for your association by asking for a copy from a key member like an officer or board member. Also, many associations make their governing documents, like bylaws, available on their website. While bylaws are an internal document, there can be times when you’ll want to show it to someone outside of your association. For instance, a donor may want to review your bylaws to make sure that you’re organized before pledging. Set up your association for success with bylaws Build a strong foundation for your association with the help of bylaws. By using your new bylaws as a playbook for daily operations, your association can operate consistently and fairly. Best of all, everyone will have clear rules for reaching your association’s goals. Looking for an easy way to strengthen your association’s structure? WildApricot can help support all your association needs! With a 4.5 Capterra rating, we’re the number one pick for associations. Sign up for a 60-day free trial of WildApricot today! 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