As I talk to educators across the country, I’m surprised by how few have bylaws for their advisory boards. I suppose it shouldn’t actually be a surprise: They’re not generally required by state departments of education, which usually ask only for minutes and sign-in sheets as proof of an active board. Since there’s very little training out there on advisory boards for CTE professionals, many may not even realize the role that bylaws can play in running an effective board.
For those not familiar with them, bylaws are essentially the rules by which your board operates. They can vary quite a bit based on the needs of your program and board, but they typically define the role and scope of the board. Bylaws also define the job descriptions of general members and those in leadership roles, how long people can serve (including the length of a term and how many terms they can serve), how those in leadership roles are elected, how often the board meets, and the process for dismissing members.
Laying out your ground rules can be extremely helpful. For example, handing your bylaws to new members allows them to get up to speed quickly; further, it ensures that everyone gets the same information, which may not always be the case when you’re relaying details during a conversation. It also prevents you from being the bad guy in some situations: There’s a huge difference between saying “You haven’t attended any meetings this year, so I’m kicking you off the board” and “You haven’t attended any meetings this year, so the bylaws say you have to leave the board.” It can be the difference between keeping or losing a partner outside of board activities.
So, what’s the best way to create bylaws? Look for a few good templates – you can find them with an online search, or look at Forms on File: Advisory Boards from NC3T. (Seamless WBL users also have access to these templates through the Resources area.) But, don’t just pick a template: If you want an engaged advisory board, share these templates with your board members, and work together through the process of modifying or creating bylaws that work for your unique board. By engaging your members in the process you’ll have full buy-in and a new resource that will help you manage your board effectively.
Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com). NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.