Bylaws, governance, due diligence. Three words people don’t normally associate with nonprofits and associations, but they’re just as foundational to making our missions move forward as membership, donations and community! 

Not only do bylaws keep our organizations legal and organized, they are also becoming key to the way that a nonprofit or association structures its board, makes hiring decisions, and even how it makes big, strategic investments — like the decision to purchase new software to help make your mission go round. 

As our member benefits and our laws are requiring more digital experiences, organizations are starting to realize that their bylaws can and should affect how they use technology.  

What are bylaws? 

Donorbox defines bylaws by saying: 

Nonprofit bylaws are a nonprofit’s operating manual. Nonprofit bylaws (or Bylaws and Articles of Organization) are the main governing document for a nonprofit organization. They are the main official documents of an organization, nonprofit or for-profit.  

Bylaws are generally seen as legal documents, and they take into account the federal, state, and even city regulations and ordinances that an organization needs to follow to be recognized as a credible, legal entity.  

In addition to legal regulations, bylaws also contain directives related to how an organization is structured. For nonprofits and associations, this often includes board terms, how often the board should meet, and it also includes information regarding how to communicate with members, how dues and fees are collected and more.  

Bylaws are seen as more permanent, foundational documents, which is why it’s wise to not get too specific with some of the directives. For example, you may include a team structure or chain of command, but you don’t want to include job descriptions because those can be subject to change.  

Laws change and our organizations evolve. It’s important to plan to revisit your bylaws to maintain your legal and cultural validity.  

Here’s a sample of a bylaws document.  

How do your bylaws affect nonprofit tech? 

These days, so much of the way we work is digital, from e-payments to e-signatures. Our reliance on technology to work with staff, board officers, volunteers and members has required our laws and bylaws to reflect that.  

Take the rise of remote working since the pandemic. Many bylaws had to include items stating if and how board meetings could be attended virtually and how voting would take place via Zoom meetings.  

In the case of our legal regulations reflecting the need for digital solutions, IRS Form 990 asks if nonprofits have a document retention policy, even though they’re not required to have one. Additionally, with organizations collecting private member data, we’re anticipating more local and federal regulations in the future.  

Finally, many bylaws include sections that offer instruction on how to form committees and the necessary chains of command when it comes to big organizational decisions, like purchasing or upgrading software.  

Leveraging your bylaws to prepare for new tech 

1. Review your bylaws to ensure your tech is keeping you legal 

Part of good due diligence is to revisit your bylaws as your federal and local regulations change. But regulations regarding tech are still relatively new and evolving. As part of your review process each year, it can be good to include “technology requirements” in your checklist.  

The National Council of Nonprofits is a great resource for gaining insights on new regulations and trending governance topics.  

2. Check your bylaws as you develop your tech implementation timelines 

The decision for nonprofits to purchase or upgrade technology is usually a big one that requires an investment in time, money and resources. This often leads to board involvement, selection committees, budget approvals, board votes, etc.  

Since bylaws often outline specific directives for how often a board meets, when voting takes place, even the definition of a fiscal year when budgets are evaluated and finalized, it’s important to check your bylaws as you plan for a successful tech implementation.  

We’ve seen instances where an organization wants to make tech decisions quickly, but have been delayed by months, even a year or two after they realized that their bylaws wouldn’t allow the right people to meet and decide sooner.  

3. Consider recruiting a tech-savvy board member 

This isn’t technically bylaw-related, but it’s a key thing to consider that could heavily influence your bylaws — recruit a board member(s) that are passionate and knowledgeable about tech. Someone with professional experience in tech brings lots of good information regarding features, tools and processes and most likely also knows trustworthy tech partners they can leverage for advice or products and services.  

But even someone who is merely passionate about tech could provide a lot of value in researching tech solutions and leading the charge when it comes to ensuring that your bylaws are tech-friendly. 

4. Be proactive about any changes that need to be made in your bylaws 

As we’ve discussed, bylaws can influence the type of technology your nonprofit purchases, when they purchase it and how they purchase it. It’s a good idea to review your bylaws each year knowing tech purchases or upgrades will eventually be something your nonprofit or association needs.  

By considering technology during your regular bylaw review, you can determine if there are bylaws that need to be addressed or changed before you invest in tech, which can save you a lot of time and even some money as you plan your next tech implementation. 

Learn more about how bylaws and other factors can help you plan for technology 

If your nonprofit or association uses tech, join us on August 15, 11:30 CT/ 12:30 ET for our webinar “Planning for New Tech & Tools” to hear how things like your bylaws, gaining board support and other important factors are key to a successful tech implementation.