Sustaining Places

Resources for small museums and historic sites



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.

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.


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.

Financial Procedures

This Nonprofit Organization Financial Red Flags Checklist from 501 Commons offers an easy way to take the pulse of your procedures for managing money. (PDF)


This document offers a clear explanation of insurance principles, procedures and vocabularies. It was prepared for a talk at the 2009 annual meeting of the New England Museums Association (NEMA), which has many small museums as members. While it focuses on “fine art” in its discussion of collections, the principles are the same no matter what the collections.

Taxes/501(c) 3 Status

NOLO Law for All offers legal information for a variety of institutions. Visit the site to find useful articles, downloadable legal forms, and legal information for nonprofit organizations. NOLO’s explanation of 501(c)3 requirements is very well-written and easy to follow.

Mailing Address

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