By-Laws: The back bone of an organization- Part 1

What makes a good set of by-laws

A well written set of by-laws will provide organizations with direction and structure.  In addition they outline the major functions of the organization.  Generally, by-laws comprise all the rules by which an organization is governed and are usually considered one in the same with organizational constitutions.  By-laws are of such importance that they should not be changed, except after suitable notice is given to the members and then a vote of the entire membership has taken place. Because of the overall organizational implications associated with by-laws, programmatic rules and regulations are generally held in a separate document and should be maintained separately from the organization’s constitution and by-laws.  Michigan State University Extension is listing the following template that provides a basic structure for the first five of ten articles.  It also gives suggested language for 4-H clubs and organizations. 

Aritlce I- Name

Article II- Object/purpose- The purpose drives the work of the organization. Creating a strong purpose creates a strong committee describes an organizational purpose statement.   4-H organizations should review the MSU Extension and 4-H vision, mission, and guiding principles as a potential starting point for purpose statements. 

Article III- Members – This section can include language regarding the qualifications of members, number of members, tenure, resignation, vacancies and attendance policies among others.  It is required that all 4-H organizations follow the civil rights policies by MSU Extension and assure that our programs are open to all.  It is recommended to include the most updated MSU Extension indicia in this section, the current statement follows:

  • Michigan State University Extension programs and materials are open to all without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, religion, age, height, weight, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital status, family status or veteran    status.

Further, MSU Extension 4-H staff members have ultimate authority over 4-H organizations and serve on all advisory groups as ex-officio members.  Consider the following language:

  • Michigan State University Extension 4-H Staff serve as ex-officio members of all 4-H organizations and committees without voting rights.  No staff member shall hold an elected office or be an elected member of the organization. 

Article IV- Officers- This section should outline each office, the duties associated with that office, the process for electing, terms, tenure, vacancies and any considerations for when individuals may need to be removed from office. 

Article V- Meetings- If the organization functions using a standard meeting date (such as the first Thursday of the month), it should be noted here.  It’s also wise to add the following language incase alternative meeting dates are determined.

  • unless otherwise specified by the membership or executive board. 

Requirements for quorum, special meetings and meeting notices should also be outlined in this section. 

Articles VI through X will be outlined in By-Laws:  The back bones of an organization-part 2.   For further assistance in establishing by-laws for your 4-H club, advisory council or committees, contact the MSU Extension Leadership Civic Engagement work team.

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