Maybe. Maybe not.
As a rule of thumb, the less formal your giving circle, the less likely you need bylaws. The more formal your giving circle becomes, the more you’ll need bylaws and the more complex your bylaws will need to be.
Below are a few items bylaws typically cover.
Taking people’s money is serious business and can be an area where differing opinions and misunderstandings can get heated. If your giving circle receives donations from its members, you should strongly consider bylaws that outline at least some of the following items:
- Who can donate to your circle (women only, adults only, anyone?).
- What qualifies as a member (how recently must they be current on dues?).
- What rights do members have (what does their donation entitle them to or NOT entitle them to)?
- What if you have a bad member?
- Where will the money will be stored?
- What can donations be used for (donations, admin expenses, marketing)?
- What happens if members want their donations back?
- How are funds disbursed?
- What are the procedures for checks and balances and auditing the financials?
- What happens if the giving circle disbands with funds still in their account?
If your giving circle does not receive your members donations (i.e. members write checks directly to the chosen charity), you might be able to get away without these type of bylaws. You’ll have to decide what you’re comfortable with.
Boards and Leadership
Will your giving circle have formal leaders such as presidents, secretary, and treasurer? If so, you may want to write bylaws that cover…
- How are these leaders chosen?
- How long do they serve?
- What happens when leaders leave early?
- What if you have a bad leader?
If you don’t have formal leadership or don’t feel that formal leadership is needed, you probably don’t need these kinds of bylaws.
The Best Offense is a Good Defense
Bylaws are great for pointing to and referencing when clarification is needed, but you don’t want to rely on your bylaws for resolving conflicts. Once you’ve gotten to the conflict phase, someone will probably be left with bad feelings. It’s better to have great communication and collaboration skills so that all members enjoy being part of the giving circle, understand what being part of your giving circle means, and can participate confidently.
- Google: If you google non-profit bylaws, you will be able to find some examples you can look through and get an idea of how to craft your own bylaws.
- Local Community Foundation: Reach out to your local community foundation. They can often offer advice and legal resources for writing bylaws.
- Find a Model:If you know of a giving circle who has a similar structure, they will often make their bylaws public on their website or be happy to share them with you. You can use these as your basis for your bylaws.
Get Your Own Legal Advice
I’m not an attorney, and I don’t really know what an attorney will advise you is necessary. I hope, though, that this post provided a starting point for understanding bylaws, why bylaws are useful, and if your giving circle should consider writing and adopting bylaws.