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Wikimedia chapters/Creation guide/Bylaw Guidelines

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What are bylaws?

Bylaw Resource Video

Bylaws are a set of written rules that regulate organizational functioning. Bylaws generally cover an organization’s official name, mission, membership criteria, Board structure, seats and associated responsibilities, Office & meetings’ terms & conditions.

Bylaws also act as a guideline for the group to stay relevant and compliant ensuring sustainable growth.

Bylaws are not the standard operating procedures, as SOPs tend to govern day -to-day operations and don't have the force of law, which bylaws do.

Why should an organization have bylaws?

In order to ensure commitment to the mission, or to structure the organization to correspond to that mission, bylaws are created. They also help ensure smooth functioning of the group, transparency and inclusivity in practice.

When should bylaws be written?

In the process of expansion and intention of growing to a more formal structure of a Chapter or Thematic Organization, a User Group needs to create their Bylaws and submit them to the Affiliations Committee for approval. The User Groups can also create their Bylaws to regulate their operations. The UGs do not need AffCom’s approval for Bylaws, but they must be in accordance with the shared guidelines.

How do you write bylaws?

For affiliates, bylaws are a legal document that the organization is responsible for upholding. The bylaws might vary in some sections depending on the regional laws, however, they must be in accordance with the Wikimedia Principles and values. It is always advisable not to add the policies & procedures with a tendency of occasional revisions or updates to Bylaws. As a guideline of shared expectations for AffCom’s approval, following items must be covered in the Bylaws:

  • Declaration of Legal Status: Every group must declare that they are a legal, non-profit entity as described by the law in their local jurisdiction and the entity’s operations and funds will not be used for the personal benefit of board members or staff.
  • Group’s Mission: Although the mission of the applicant group can vary based on the regional perspective and requirement, bylaws must be aligned with the larger Wikimedia mission. This can be done either by stating the group’s mission explicitly or discussing it implicitly.
  • Inclusivity: The group must be open to everyone and no discrimination must be made on the basis of gender, sex, race, etc. in the process of membership, however, there might be bylaws stating administrative membership requirements. There might be certain restrictions or exclusions in membership, however, these restrictions and exclusions must be reasonable and as narrow, and well defined as possible. Also, the process and conditions for removing a member of the group must be clearly stated.
  • Affiliate structure & Members’ Rights: Bylaws must clearly state the roles and rights of members of the general forum, board of trustees, and the chairman or executive. The power distribution among the three levels of chapter or thorg must be clearly demarcated in bylaws. These bylaws can be based on the regional requirements and if so, the document supporting this framework must be submitted.
  • Board Structure: The board structure must be clearly represented in the bylaws. Generally, the number of board members should be proportional to the total number of members. Additionally, the rules for election, term of election, and term of service of a board member must be mentioned unambiguously. Rule of majority in case of voting among the board members must also be clearly mentioned. Contact persons responsible for conveying the activities of the chapter and thorg must be fixed through bylaws. If the chapter or thorg has an audit commission, its power and terms of the audit must be mentioned.
  • Terms of Meeting: Terms for the meeting are another important thing to be mentioned in the bylaws. The meeting requirements for members and for board members should be clearly defined. In any case, the procedure for the announcement of the meeting and alternative methods of announcement must be mentioned in the bylaws.
  • Elections: Elections are important for the decision-making process of a Chapter or ThOrg and are held in the general meeting to decide on important issues. The process of election along with the electoral laws must be described in the bylaws. The principle of one person, one vote must be followed and made clear in the bylaws. These rules must apply to members of the general forum as well as board members and chairman.
  • Representation: Bylaws must ensure that diversity and gender representation in accordance with the local law must be complied. The diversity might vary drastically in different regions, however, fair representation in general membership, board membership, and executives must be mandatory.
  • Code of Conduct: The code of conduct must be expressed in the bylaws. Good and bad practices as well as practices which can result in expulsion of a member must be spelled out clearly. Please note that all Wikimedia organizations must also abide by the Universal Code of Conduct.

General requirements of good bylaws have been mentioned here. There are certain things you must avoid while framing the bylaws.