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How to Write the By-Laws for a Not-For-Profit Organization

Updated on August 20, 2011


My work with not-for-profit organizations dates back to the mid-1970s when I decided that it was time to do some volunteer work. That experience lead to my attending RyersonUniversity in Toronto and studying social work. Since then I have worked with a number of groups either serving on a Board of Directors or helping people form a not-for-profit.

I have written by-laws and participated in numerous discussions regarding how to form a not-for-profit. These discussions included whether or not it is necessary to actually formalize your project into a not-for-profit structure.

This hub starts with the premise that you have already decided that a not-for-profit is essential and are working on getting incorporated. You need a set of bylaws to do this and you need them to guide your organization’s decision making process.

I suggest that if you are planning to launch a not-for-profit and especially if you want to set up a charitable organization, that you consult a lawyer. The information here will help you better understand the process and will assist you in defining how the organization will operate.

Also check the laws governing not-for-profits where the organization will operate to know what is required.

Generally, the by-laws must include the following:

1- The official name of the organization.

2- The address where the organization’s seal is kept.

3- Purpose of the organization

4- Define your membership

5- How many meeting will be held each year

6- Where will they be held

7- How will members be notified

8- How are special meetings set?

9- What happens when members miss meeting?

10- Voting, how is the vote taken?

11- Who can vote?

12- What officers are in place, i.e. President, Past-President, Secretary, and Treasurer?

13- How are Board of Directors vacancies filled?

14- Procedure for removing a Director.

15- Committee structure.

Once you have clear and agreed upon answers to these 15 points then you have the foundation of your bylaws. While you can amend the organization’s bylaws, you do not want to do so during the first months of operation as it distracts from carrying out the work the agency was created to conduct. So take your time and get a working group together and when you have a draft copy worked out then it may be a good time to visit a lawyer.

By-laws are your cornerstone, they guide the organization through the decision-making process and are worth spending time and some money on so that you develop a document that is useful and empowering.


Submit a Comment

  • Bob Ewing profile image

    Bob Ewing 7 years ago from New Brunswick

    I will see what I can do.

  • profile image

    Sandra Mayers 7 years ago

    A group called "Better Together" was formed about two years ago by American citizens living in San Felipe, B.C. Mexico. Since inception, membership has grown each year. We have been using funds from members and San Felipe Rotary to provide food, medicine, and building materials to improve the lives of the elderly in San Felipe. We do not want to incorporate at this time but would like to be under someone else's non-profit umbrella to receive funds from organizations in Mexico and the United States. Can you refer me to a source to write our by-laws, a charter, and mission statement? Please answer to Thank you for your time. I will be happy to give you more information if it is necessary.

  • Bob Ewing profile image

    Bob Ewing 7 years ago from New Brunswick

    I cannot advise on this, as it is a legal question.

  • profile image

    unhappy member 7 years ago

    I am a member of a non-profit organization. Our Board of Directors are not abiding by the by-laws. What actions (if any) can I take?

  • Bob Ewing profile image

    Bob Ewing 8 years ago from New Brunswick

    Thanks for dropping by.

  • Dame Scribe profile image

    Dame Scribe 8 years ago from Canada

    By-laws are so important for smooth operations and abiding by them is the next hurdle, great info :)

  • Bob Ewing profile image

    Bob Ewing 8 years ago from New Brunswick

    Nothing I could say in this small space, thanks for dropping by.

  • Tyhill27 profile image

    Tyhill27 8 years ago from Red Deer, Alberta

    Thanks Bob, good topic. I am currently the president of our condo board of directors. Any advise on how to persuade the board against a pushy management company?

  • Bob Ewing profile image

    Bob Ewing 8 years ago from New Brunswick

    First you have to obtain them and then modify, both take time.

  • skgrao profile image

    S K G Rao. 8 years ago from Bangalore City - INDIA.

    We can Just copy the By-Laws of a good no profit organization with changes to suit us.