Governing Documents

Mission Statement

A brief description of the organization’s purpose, the mission statement guides the actions of the organization, spells out its overall purpose, provides sense of direction and guides decision making.
The mission statement informs members, prospects and other organizations as to the reason for your existence. It answers the question “What kind of organization is this; why does it exist; and who does it serve?” Always less than 50 words, a mission statement should inspire commitment and loyalty. The mission statement is a concise statement of the organization’s vision and it should be widely communicated. Every mission statement should reflect opportunities, competence, and commitment. If it doesn’t have those three things, it will not mobilize the human resources of the organization for getting the right things done.

Questions to ask when writing a mission statement:

  • With the limited resources we have, where can we really make a difference?
  • What do we really believe in?
  • Are we likely to do a decent job?

Charter and Bylaws

Organizations in democratic and free-market societies are ruled by legal documents known as charters and bylaws. The charter (also referred to as the articles of incorporation) is normally granted by the responsible government, whether national or provincial, and establishes the name of the organization as well as the founding members and outlines the organization’s basic purpose. The requirements for obtaining and retaining a charter can vary greatly depending on local laws and regulations so it is important that staff monitor any changes to local corporate law.

Whereas the articles of incorporation establish the legal foundations of the organization, bylaws outline the internal rules regarding the internal management of the organization. Bylaws establish management rules that provide consistency and continuity of operations for the assurances of those both within the association and outside of it. They define the relationship between the association and its members and among the members themselves. Good bylaws minimize the likelihood of confusion and disagreement on structure and operations. Key provisions of bylaws include:

  • Name of the organization and its purpose
  • Qualifications for membership including classes of membership such as associate, affiliated, subscribing, honorary, etc.; voting requirements and procedures; and provisions for proxies
  • Dues structure and fiscal policies (but not amounts). Dues amounts should be determined by the board of directors and definitely should not be stated in the bylaws
  • List of officers, terms, powers, duties, and rules for filling vacancies
  • Definition of the role of the chief staff officer (CSO)
  • Meeting schedules, such as quarterly board meetings, annual membership meetings, etc.
  • Committee descriptions
  • Ammendment and dissolution procedures

Policy Manual

Policies reflect the wisdom of the board of directors in interpreting the governing documents and provide guidance to future leaders on preferred methods of implementation and decision making. The policy development process includes the identification of recurring issues and the best alternatives selected by the board. Policies are adopted or amended as motions of the board and can be completed without involving the general membership of the organization. At least annually, all policy motions and decisions should be transcribed from the board minutes into the policy manual. Policies are distinct from the staff’s day-to-day operating procedures, which are working methods typically developed and enacted under the direction of the Chief Staff Officer.

Strategic Plan

The strategic plan is a vital document that identifies long-term (3-5 years) goals and provides strategies on how to achieve them. The plan helps to align objectives with resources and organizational capacity. It includes an affirmation of the mission as well as supporting statements that address the vision and values of the organization. A good strategic plan is a characteristic that distinguishes highly successful organizations as it acts as a guide for successive leaders and ensures the organization is continuously working to fulfill its mission.