A non-profit constitution is nothing more than the organization's by-laws. Just as a constitution organizes a government and describes how that government functions, so do by-laws. State governments have the final say on what must be included in the by-laws. A state's attorney general's office will regulate non-profit organizations while the federal government is the entity granting an organization non-profit status. Both the state's attorney general and the federal government require copies of an organization's constitution.
Refer to your state laws on non-profits. Each state has different minimum requirements for a non-profit's governing rules, whether they are referred to as a constitution or by-laws. How members join boards, who can serve on boards, how to amend the constitution and other necessary components are just some of the items that must be included. However, within these guidelines, there is plenty of flexibility in order to satisfy the demands of the specific organization. A research institution, for example, will have very different needs than a homeless shelter. The state's statutes on organizing a constitution take all of this into account.
Assess your specific organizational needs. The statutes regarding a constitution or by-laws are purposely broad. The organizational structure, its missions and goals are among the items that must be considered in writing the by-laws. The founders of the organization may wish to provide a means of protecting the mission from the actions of future boards. In the by-laws, the board may also wish to delegate specific functions to the staff members running the organization. These are just some of the questions that must be addressed.
Follow the proper format. Generally speaking, the constitution will consist of six or seven amendments. There should be a title and each article serves as a sub-heading (Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, etc.) The articles will name the organization and determine the length of time the organization is to exist, usually in perpetuity. Procedures for amending the articles must also be spelled out. Finally, the original incorporators will sign and date the constitution. Many states require at least three members to sign the by-laws.
- Foundation Center: Establishing a Nonprofit Organization: Establish Bylaws and Board Policies
- "Nonprofit Kit for Dummies," Stan Hutton and Frances Phillips; 2001
Greg Blankenship is a Springfield, Ill.-based writer who has been covering public policy and politics professionally since 2002. He has written for "The American Spectator," "The Springfield State Journal-Register," "The Champaign News-Gazette" and "The Suburban Daily Herald." His focus has been on health care, public finance and economic issues. Blankenship holds a Master of Arts in international studies from Loyola University of Chicago.