Sustaining Places

Resources for small museums and historic sites

Governance

Bylaws

Bylaws are the written rules for daily operations and management enacted by your organization. Bylaws guide the work of the board of directors or trustees. Bylaws do not have to be long, but they should be regarded as a living document, to be revised as organizational needs change. These examples may be useful as you consider writing a new set of bylaws or revising your organization’s bylaws.

Bylaws of the Groton Historical Society (PDF). The Groton Historical Society in Groton, MA, is an all-volunteer organization founded in 1894. In 1999, the Board of Trustees passed this set of by-laws, notable for their brevity and their clarity.

The New York State Museum also offers a template for writing both a constitution and bylaws.

Here are some nice tips for writing bylaws from KU’s Community Tool Box.

Board of Trustees

Small organizations suffer when their boards of trustees are not effective. Creating job descriptions for board members that define clear expectations for involvement is an important step in developing your small organization’s capacity.

Broken boards? Here are some indications that all is not well with board members and tips on how to ameliorate the situation.

The Center for Association Leadership provides Standing Committee, Ad Hoc Committee, Task Force, and Advisory Council samples of committee structures.

Compass Point Nonprofit Services provides a useful template for writing Board Committee Job Descriptions.

The American Alliance of Museum’s Free Management Library provides this article titled “Basic Guidelines and Sample Agenda for Board Training Session.”

Wondering what the major responsibilities of a board member are? Here is an easy-to-read list from Richard Male and Associates.

The Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership offers a document clarifying the legal duties of board members.

Is your organization in compliance with federal law? Check out this Compliance Guide for 501(c)(3) Public Charities from the IRS.

The Maine Association of Nonprofits provides a guide to determining if your board is ready for self-assessment.

What should the relationship be like between museum staff, director of development, and trustees?

BoardSource offers this article on nonprofit boards should be structured.

Also from BoardSource, the Twelve Principals of Governance that Power Exceptional Boards.

The Bridgespan Group offers recruiting tips on figuring out what talent you have on your boards and what talent you need.

The Muttart Foundation offers a workbook on board development, which includes information about board building and recruitment.

How to orient your board members? Read this sample board orientation checklist.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City provides this toolkit for executive succession-planning.

From the AASLH, an article on “DIY Strategic Planning for Small Museums.”

Rebecca Macfarlane has written a strategic plan template.

How should trustees contribute to fundraising? A brief article from fundraising consultant Armand Battisti.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals has created this reference guide titled “Building an Effective Board of Directors.”

Kim Andrews at the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden has provided Sustaining Places with samples of various documents pertaining to the organization’s board. They are: director job description and expectations; candidate application; board officer agreements for different positions; conflict of interest policy and disclosure statement; board and committee structure; executive committee job descriptions; board giving form; and board assessment form.

Blue Avocado is a free online magazine aimed at community nonprofits, with ample and practical coverage of board service.

BoardSource is an essential resource for nonprofits looking to magnify their impact through governance practices. It offers publications (some at no cost) on such topics as board recruitment and assessment; organizes webinars and live events; and runs a blog titled Exceptional Boards.

Bridgespan Group offers a collection of short articles organized by category: Nonprofit Boards 101; Find and Join a Nonprofit Board; Resources for Board Members; and Recruiting Board Members.

The Center for Nonprofit Excellence lists helpful resources on board development, including sample policies and tips for strategic planning. The organization offers free webinars on board development. Video links at the bottom of the page include past webinars on topics such as active board participation and the board’s role in fundraising.

The Charity Channel is a publishing company geared to publications for nonprofit professionals. In addition to its bookstore, the Charity Channel offers hundreds of free articles, with new articles added on a weekly basis.

Compass Point is the home of the archives of Board Café, a newsletter dedicated to nonprofit boards that ran from 1997 to 2008 before being subsumed by Blue Avocado. The organization also offers a free online course called “Nonprofit Board Basics,” accessible at any time.

Independent Sector offers articles on the “33 Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice,” from complying with all federal laws and regulations, to promoting board diversity, to completing accurate financial records, to respecting donor privacy.

Leading by Design is a blog published by Anne W. Ackerson, a museum consultant and former director of the Museum Association of New York, that addresses “forward-thinking” governance and leadership.

The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits has published brief articles on governance divided into two categories: Board Basics and Leadership Development. Topics addressed include, “Board Composition and Structure,” “The Board’s Role in Risk Management,” and “Leadership vs. Management.”

Constitutions

A constitution or charter is a founding document. It outlines the mission of your organization, defines the membership, establishes the structure of the board of trustees, its meeting schedule, and the process and schedule for elections. Although no one wants to think about this, the constitution or charter should also outline the process through which the organization would be closed and its assets dispersed.

The website of the New York State Museum offers a brief, clearly written template for the constitution of a historical society.

Mailing Address

University of Delaware
Museum Studies Program, Sustaining Places
77 E. Main St.
Newark, DE 19711

E-mail

sustainingplaces@udel.edu