Guidelines for Writing a Constitution
The constitution of an organization contains the fundamental principles that govern its operation. Some organizations also create by-laws to outline specific rules of governance by which the group is to function. The constitution and the by-laws are in place to guide how the organization works. They are primarily for the organization’s use. Organizations should develop a form and language that works for them. The constitution should be made for easy amendment of the by-laws since rules of procedure should be carefully formulated, clearly worded, and kept up-to-date so that they serve the needs of the organization. The constitution and by-laws should be reported so that each member may have a copy.
The following outline should assist in the preparation of a constitution, and if needed, by-laws.
Article I: Name of the Organization and any affiliations
Article II: Purpose of the organization. Organizations should take care to include a complete statement of purpose. Programs sponsored by the organization will be expected to keep with the organization’s stated objective.
Article III: Membership (qualifications, types). Voting membership should be defined as limited to currently enrolled University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign students. No student organization shall deny membership because of sexual orientation, race, color, national origin, gender, age, or disability.
Article IV: Leadership (titles of leadership, terms of leadership, how leaders are selected, and duties). Organizations should have necessary leaders to conduct their activities.
Article V: Meetings (regular, special, quorum). It is best to establish only the minimum number required and the approximate time of year in order to avoid creating requirements impossible to fulfill. Additional meetings can always be held. The quorum necessary to conduct business should be defined.
Article VI: Advisor (term of service/ selection) Each organization must have an advisor from the staff of Residential Life.
Article VII: Standing committees (if needed). Listed names and general duties of standing committees.
Article VIII: Executive Board/ Leadership Council (if needed). Provide for such a board, how it is selected, an its responsibilities.
Article IX: Parliamentary Authority. If this is your choice of organizational structure, the statement usually reads: “The rules contained in Robert’s Rules of Order revised shall govern this organization in all cases to which they are applicable unless they are inconsistent with the constitution and by-laws and special rules of the organization.
Article X: Method of amending constitution (methods of proposal, notice, voting requirements). Generally, proposed amendments are not acted upon immediately and require a majority of 2/3 or ¾ of those voting or of total membership to be adopted.
An organization need not have by-laws separate from the constitution. Items covered in by-laws by the organization might be covered in the constitution of the organization. On the other hand, by-laws are sometimes desirable since by-laws usually contain more details and are more easily amended than the constitution. They are more permanent than passing a motion at a meeting.
By-laws cannot run contrary to the constitution. Possible topics for by-laws include:
- Membership (selection requirements, resignation, replacement, dropping members).
- Dues (amount and collections procedures, special fees, when payable).
- Duties of officers (power, responsibilities, rules for election, procedures for filling un-expired terms, removal from office).
- Election rules and procedures.
- Duties of advisor.
- Executive Board/ Leadership (composition, privileges).
- Committees (standing, special, how formed, chairpersons, meetings, function).
- Order of business and rules about conducting business.
- Amendment (means of proposals, notice required, voting requirements).