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Arlington County Civic Federation

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Hints on Bylaws

From our New Delegates Worshop of September 10, 2000

Bylaws are like an insurance policy; you usually ignore them until they are really needed in a crisis. Bylaws are best created, distributed, and understood before there is a crisis.

Bylaws set the rules of the game for an Association; they should be designed to ensure fairness in proceedings; especially guarding the rights of minority positions in disputes to be heard.

Bylaws should emphasize the process, not specific results; Bylaws should be reasonably flexible.

Key Areas:


Who is allowed to vote? Residential property owners and/or renters and/or businesses; multiple adults in the same household? Don't try to resolve this in the middle of a dispute!

Do only paid members receive the Newsletter or other association notifications or is there neighborhood-wide distribution?

Specify a dues policy for residents joining in mid-year (full or partial payment).

Is a minimum quorum required for meetings and voting? Is this quorum likely to be met at all meetings?


Well defined duties minimize confusion and facilitate efficiency. Who can speak on behalf of the Association? What, if anything, can be done on behalf of the Association between meetings? For any Association that does not meet monthly this is very important to decide in advance.

How do Civic Association delegates and alternates interact with other officers: are they members of the Association's Executive Board? do they represent themselves or the Association at the Federation?

Making your immediate past president an ex officio member of your Executive Committee should be considered to provide continuity.


How many monthly meetings can you effectively present during a year that will have good attendance? Too many meetings on only routine business items drive residents away. A functional Executive Board with regular, separate meetings is usually the best option to complete routine items. Meeting places should be centrally located within Association boundaries, if facilities are available. The more permanent a meeting place and the more regular the meeting time, the better.


Provide for enough committees, both permanent and temporary, so that really concerned residents can fully discuss an issue without disrupting general membership meetings. Give committees clear operating mandates and deadlines.

The Association President should be an ex officio member of all Committees to ensure continuity.


Don't reinvent the wheel (do not specify every operating procedure and rule); default to Robert's Rules of Order unless your Association has a clear need for an exception.

6. CONTROVERSY: If any Association knows that a topic is likely to be controversial (e.g. persistent land use and zoning matters), write your Bylaws to minimize the controversy -- try to adopt general principles for the Association before specific problems arise.


As you draft Bylaws, keep in mind the changing nature of civic technology. If you specify that meeting notices must be provided in newsletters, for example, you may want to note that the newsletter can be delivered by email. Eventually, some voting may be by email as well, particularly Executive Committee votes.


If you need examples of Bylaws, many civic associations have their Bylaws on their website. Check the Civic Federation's page linking to members' bylaws for links. Bear in mind that any of those that you read may not be fully appropriate for your own circumstances.

This page was last revised on: December 27, 2003.
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