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Once you’ve assembled a board for your new nonprofit, you can get to work on establishing your bylaws—which will create the roadmap for how your organization operates. Though it’s an internal document meant to help your organization hold itself accountable, you’ll need it when it’s time to file for 501c3 status with the IRS. You don’t need to file this legal document with your state, but you should be aware of any applicable state regulations to make sure your bylaws are in compliance in the state where you’ll be operating.

Though every organization is different, nonprofit bylaws generally need to establish the same types of things—like the purpose of your organization, the roles and duties of your board of directors, and processes for maintaining transparency and preventing conflicts of interest. If you’d like help writing your bylaws, you can always work with a registered agent or consultancy like our partners at Harbor Compliance

Whether you start on your own or hire someone to help you, a helpful rule of thumb to start with is to keep your bylaws broad enough to give your organization the space it needs to evolve over time while still staying true to your original intention. In short, don’t fret over making them too specific. Avoid including information or processes that are likely to change frequently, since you’ll need to keep amending your bylaws to reflect those changes. Instead, save the specifics (like meeting times, individual staff member names and duties) for internal manuals on policies and procedures that you can keep developing as you grow.

For instance, since most states require that a nonprofit’s board meet more than once annually, commit to a frequency that you feel confident you’ll be able to stick to, like semi-annually or quarterly if not monthly. Include a provision for your board to conduct a self-assessment at least once every two years so that together you can reflect, judge your progress, and implement improvements before your next evaluation. On an annual basis, make sure your whole board can review your form 990—the required public document outlining your organization’s finances, activities, and governance practices—before you file. While the rest of your bylaws and practices should hopefully prevent conflicts of interest, you may want to add language on the “whistleblower process” your organization will follow to investigate any reports of improper conduct and prevent retaliation. 

It’s helpful to download a template to get you started—this free template from our partners at Harbor Compliance should do the trick, and if you’re interested in their services to walk you through the process of establishing your nonprofit, here's where to sign up.

Disclaimer: The information included on this page and on related pages is for general informational purposes only, and is not intended to be relied on as legal or tax advice or opinion. Every situation is unique and NationBuilder does not recommend acting on information obtained from this page and related pages without consulting legal or tax professionals.

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