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A legal document outlining the self-imposed rules that will regulate an organization's own actions. Since it is a required element when forming a corporation, bylaws are a form of agreement or contract between the corporation and its owners to conduct itself in a certain way.

While for a commercial business the owners are its shareholders, the ownership of a nonprofit corporation belongs to the public as represented by the nonprofit organization's Board of Directors.

What Should Be in Your Nonprofit's Bylaws?

Bylaws vary according to the nature of your organization, but consider them to be your internal manual for how you will operate. They should address basic activities, such as:

  • when and how board meetings will be held and conducted
  • how directors and officers are elected
  • what constitutes a quorum
  • number of directors, required qualifications, and terms of service
  • language that affirms the requirements and prohibitions for nonprofit (501(c)(3) organizations as set out by the IRS
  • rules that govern conflicts of interest

Bylaws are completed in preparation for becoming incorporated in your state. Your state office that oversees incorporation will probably have a template for your bylaws that you can use.

Recommended Resource: How to Form a Nonprofit Corporation, Anthony Mancuso, (Nolo)

An organization's bylaws specify the rules by which it will operate.
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