A constitution is a document that outlines the founding principles that define an organization and govern its operation. For a group to become recognized on campus, it is fundamental that the founding members draft a constitution and submit the document to the student governing board for approval. A constitution gives an organization merit and the opportunity to request funding from the student activities fee. All but the most informal student groups have a recorded constitution that is recorded and accessible by any student on campus. Students can learn much about an organization’s purpose and the required qualifications for membership, by reviewing the constitution drafted by the group.
Constitutions are usually straightforward and have a fairly universal template. If you are looking to found a group, you can always review the accepted constitutions of other organizations on campus for examples that exemplify the specific needs of a constitution on your campus. Other than funding purposes, why have a constitution?
By definition, an organization is a body of persons unified for some specific purpose, as a club, union, group, or society. The constitution serves to clarify the group’s purpose, defines the group’s structure, and provides the foundational principles that guide the group’s operation. The constitution allows members to better understand their roles and mission in the group and permits non-members to better understand the overall goals of the group. In other words, the constitution is the basic framework of the organization.
Since writing a constitution is a common practice on campus, it is important to have a resource that outlines the basic format that all groups should have in common. Below is a common outline of a constitution with an explanation of what should be covered in each section. Though not a comprehensive outline, this guide should guide student leaders in the basics of writing a constitution in a clear and concise manner.
What should be included in a constitution:
Article I: Organization’s Name
The full name of your organization should be stated here. Make sure to define what the acronym stands for if your group utilizes one.
Article II: Organization’s Mission, Purpose, and Function
A clear mission and statement of purpose should be place in this section. A description of why your group is relevant to the student body can be added here. Also, if your group is affiliated with a larger national group, ensure that information is stated here.
Article III: Membership Requirements and Limitations
Since your group is on campus and operates with funding from the student activity fee, any and all students that contribute to the student activity fee must have the opportunity to join. This area includes the requirements for voting in group meetings. Make sure to check with your campus advisors to learn more about what must be included in this section and to verify that your constitution adheres to campus policies.
Article IV: Officers and Elections
This section outlines the organizational composition of your group and how the positions are to be filled. All groups tend to have at least two officers with most groups containing several more official positions. All members have to meet qualifications set forth by the campus, which many times includes maintaining good standing academically. The established officer posts should be described in this section which includes their respective title, responsibilities, and duties.
Elections need to be covered in this section. The elections need to have a structure which includes who votes during elections, when the elections will be held, and the term limits imposed on each officer post.
Article V: Meetings and Quorum
The frequency of meetings should be listed in this section. The process needed to complete and who can schedule special meetings should be defined here. The person that records and distributes minutes and the amount of voting members needed to meet quorum (the minimum amount of voting members needed to take a vote) should be placed here.
Article VI: Executive Commitee
It is advisable to have an executive committee section in your constitution. This committee is usually composed of the group of officers and committee chairs that can be entrusted with the authority to meet and make decisions that impact the organization. If your group has an executive committee, ensure that this section outlines their composition, rules by which they can conduct meetings, and the executive committee quorum for group meetings.
Article VII: Committees
This section outlines the formation of any special groups that oversee processes that are common in the operation of the larger organization. For instance having an election committee, a social media committee, an event planning committee, and the like are common in most student led groups. By opening the door to committees, members of the group can take a more active role in the organization.
Article VIII: Advisor
This article simply defines the organization’s advisor(s) and the method for selecting the advisor(s).
Article IX: Removal and Impeachment
In some cases, student members and officers fail to complete their duties or live up to their responsibilities and must be removed from office. The most common reasons tend to be tardiness or a member quitting the group without giving a formal resignation. Since members retain due process rights, the best option is to guide removal proceedings by Parliamentary authority. Check with your campus advisors for the best manner in which to word this section.
Article X: Amendments
This section describes the procedure for amending the constitution. Think of your constitution as a living document that must have the ability to adapt to circumstance. In this section include the manner in which a proposed change, addition, or deletion to the organization’s constitution must be made. Remember, amendments must be proposed in front of the voting body and approved. Once approved, the new constitution should be immediately submitted to the Student Government.
Article XI: Parliamentary Authority
List here the particular work (typically Robert’s rules of Order) that is the special rule of order that your organization will follow.
Article XII: Ratification
The date of the creation or the addition of any amendment should be listed here.
The constitution covers the fundamental principles but does not prescribe specific procedures for operating your organization. By-Laws set forth in detail, the manner in which the organization is to conduct business. By-laws supplement the articles and are more easily adapted to meet the needs of your organization.
By-laws must not contradict the provisions of the constitution. Generally, by-laws contain specific information necessary for an organization’s operation.
Once you have an approved constitution, it is up to the members and officers to ensure that your group complies with the framework set forth. To do this, make sure that all new members receive a copy or have access to the constitution. This will assist members new to the group, to contribute lawfully and in accordance with the rules of operation.