Drafting Post Bylaws – A Guide with Templates
August 21, 2010 in Judge Advocate
The question is often asked: “Does our Post need By-Laws?”
The short answer is: “Maybe. Maybe not.” It depends on your Post situation. No Post is truly without By-Laws. In the absence of a specific Post (or District, or County Council) By-Laws, our National By-Laws are sufficient to guide the individual units. They are, in fact, your Post By-Laws in lieu of your Post creating By-Laws of your own.
So, if your Post operates in a relatively uncomplicated manner (i.e. No Post Home; No Canteen; No Mens Auxiliary), the actual answer would most likely be “Probably not.” You can run your Post quite effectively by following the National By-Laws.
But if your Post operation is more active, more complex (with one or more of the features itemized in the previous paragraph), then the answer becomes “Probably a good idea to have your own By-Laws.” Your Post By-Laws should build on the National By-Laws and address specific situations in a manner that is agreed upon by your membership. Once created and approved, your Post By-Laws become the framework that guides your Post through the future.
Post By-Laws can be changed, but to do so will require a specific process and resubmission for approval. (This issue will be addressed in a separate blog posting soon.)
Assuming your Post falls under that latter conclusion (that Post By-Laws would be a good idea), how do you create these Post By-Laws? Here are a few steps, and then some shortcuts:
- Form a By-Laws Committee: This committee should consist of several Post Members, including certain officers. The Post Commander should be on the committee, as should your Post Judge Advocate, and probably your Quartermaster. The rest of the committee should be drawn from the general membership, but these should be individuals with an in interest in the process and the outcome. Be sure and include both newer members and some who have a relatively long history with the Post, so that you get a combination of practical Post experience and fresh perspectives on the issues at hand. The Commander should NOT be the chairman of this committee.
- Obtain a CURRENT copy of the NATIONAL BY-LAWS (Podium Edition): Whatever the eventual document you come up with, it may contain NO PROVISIONS that are contrary to our National By-Laws or Manual of Procedure. You might as well get in the habit of checking what you’re proposing against the VFW’s overall rules.
- Obtain a current copy of your Department By-Laws: There may be provisions therein that you will need to take under consideration, and your By-Laws must be consistent with Department as well as National.
- Create a working draft: Don’t expect to sit down one night and finish your project in one session. Done properly, the process will take research, study and discussion to hone the points properly.
- Once the final draft is ready, be sure and circulate it among all Post members well in advance of a regular, or special, meeting to discuss and vote on it. Give members an opportunity to study your output.
- Present the proposed By-Laws item-by-item at the voting meeting. The smoothest way to do this is to follow the pattern used so effectively at National Convention. In this method, each section is presented as recommended for passage by the By-Laws Committee. Give members the opportunity to “Set Aside” each provision for detailed discussion following the introduction of all provisions. Simply ask, “Does anyone want this (provision, section, etc.) Set Aside?” Hearing no call for a set aside, call for a vote on that item (yea or nay) and move on to the next item.
- Once all provisions have been individually approved, disapproved or set aside, you are now ready to go back, in order, to the set aside items. Reread the individual item, then open the floor for discussion. At the end of the discussion period, call for a vote (yea or nay) on the individual item.
- Once all items have been voted on, you either have a complete and approved set of By-Laws, or you have more work to do on those portions that were turned down. If you have one or more provisions that have been rejected, first determine whether their deletion from the By-Laws affects the overall integrity of the By-Laws. If they do, refer the project back to the committee for resolution. The By-Laws will have to be presented to another meeting, with voting and discussion on the previously rejected sections only, since all the other provisions have been passed.
- When you have a final, approved set of By-Laws, forward them to Department Headquarters. Typically, the Adjutant will forward a copy to your State Judge Advocate for review. (You may or may not receive recommendations for changes from the Advocate or Adjutant. The Department does not exercise “approval” of By-Laws… only review prior to submission to National. It is then the Adjutant’s duty to forward the Post By-Laws to VFW National Headquarters for review and APPROVAL by the National Commander-in-Chief (via the Adjutant-General’s Administrative Department.) Your new By-Laws may NOT officially go into effect until the Commander-in-Chief has approved them, in writing, and returned them to you. Any decisions made in accordance with any provision of pending By-Laws that is subsequently changed upon official review would have to be reconsidered. This is why the review process at Department level is helpful.
AND NOW THE SHORTCUT!
We are providing here download links to two versions of draft Post By-Laws that may be used as a starting template for your own Post By-Laws. The two versions are editable in WORD, WORKS. The free office suite, OPEN OFFICE, should be able to open either version for editing.
TIP: There are some matters which may change year-to-year. Consider building into your By-Laws a provision for Standing Rules which will direct the Post to consider certain issues annually at a designated meeting (for example the first meeting of the program year, or the December meeting, etc.) to set certain limited variables for the coming year. Those Standing Rules cover such things as the amount you charge for dues, the dates for some special annual event, etc. The items addressed by Standing Rules may then be modified as needed without going back through the amendment and re-aproval process. Of course, Standing Rules must also be consistent with all By-Laws, allowing only the variable to be adjusted as needed.