What if your nonprofit board isn’t following its bylaws?

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If your board isn’t following its own bylaws, there are four different approaches you can take.

Educate the board about liability

The first step is to educate the board. Point out to them that bylaws are not a “suggestion,” they are mandatory. They form the foundation of how the entire organization functions. Failing to follow them puts the board, and the nonprofit, at legal risk.

This excellent article by Ellis Carter explains it: Ultra Vires Acts: Why Nonprofits Must Follow Their Articles & Bylaws.

In many states you can locate educational institutions that provide helpful information specific to your state. The Attorneys General of some states have also published useful guidebooks.

Invoke a higher authority

If your nonprofit is part of a larger organization, you may be able to speak to headquarters about this. A Rotary Club, a parent-teacher association, or the state chapter of a national professional organization has obligations to its higher authority. However, note that many nonprofits are free-standing, in which case this would not apply.

Turn to members

Members of an HOA or other membership organization ought to care about whether the board is fulfilling its duties (though sometimes they don’t). Perhaps you can rally the members about this issue. If your nonprofit has no members, perhaps you can turn to key stakeholders—donors, grantors or supporters. This will not make you popular, but it can be effective.

Go to court

If none of these approaches work, your only option is to file a lawsuit. There is no intermediate authority, no “parliamentary police,” who will intervene. Of course you would prefer to avoid this drastic and expensive alternative. In addition, the courts are not interested in violations of procedure or bylaws unless someone has been harmed. So this is really a venture of last resort. Few people are willing to undertake it. If you are tempted, consider the cost/benefit ratio before proceeding.

Have you had issues like this with your nonprofit board? Let us know!

 

 

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