How to Write a Constitution

Imagine having a document that clearly explained your organization’s leadership roles, defined its purpose, listed the requirements for membership, and just made your life easier in general by serving as a guide for you and your group.  It might be time for you to look into how to write a constitution for your organization.

Before we go into the details of how to write a constitution for a college club, it’s worth discussing why knowing how to write a constitution even matters in the first place.  First of all, the constitution can make the decision-making process much easier, more streamlined, and less stressful by defining beforehand who is going to do what.  Second, like your student organization’s mission, it makes the kinds of activities you organize much more focused.  The constitution serves as a concrete document that states what your group does and why.  Third, the student organization’s constitution helps you make your meetings more organized by laying out the rules and procedures.  So, to get started, here are some pointers on writing the constitution’s various components, followed by some advice for where, when, and how to write a constitution for your club.

How to Write a Constitution Preamble

If that word “preamble” looks and sounds weird to you, don’t worry. You’re probably more familiar with preambles than you think (one of the most famous in history begins with “We the People…,” the introduction to the United States Constitution).  Just like the US Constitution’s preamble sets up the reasons for having a constitution in the first place, your preamble should do something along the same lines. What’s the purpose of your constitution?  What kinds of questions will the constitution seek to answer for your organization?  If you’re still wondering how to write a constitution preamble or are having trouble coming up with some ideas, the preamble can also work as a summarized version of the mission or an explanation of your organization’s jurisdiction.

How to Write a Constitution Article Section

After your preamble, you can begin your articles section.  This will be done differently for every student organization.  Your articles can be varied and arranged in all kinds of ways, but if you’re unsure of how to write a constitution and you’re looking for a place to start, here are some common bases you can cover.

You’ll need at least one article covering your organization’s goals and another explaining the purpose your club serves on campus.  Another set of articles should detail the structure of your organization.  Start with an article outlining the requirements for membership.  Even if your membership is open and fairly fluid, you still need to have that in writing.

Next, if necessary, you need an article that explains the differences between club membership on one hand, and board membership on the other, and once again, even if there isn’t much to say, you still need to put it in writing.  For instance, the difference could be that board membership includes elected officers and any appointed roles that they create.

Now, the remainder of the constitution will involve some articles that go into more depth about the board committee.  The board includes the president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, and other elected officers, and anybody else you wish to add.  Another article needs to explain the roles of each member of the board.  Who is responsible for what?  Are there any instances, like meetings about finances, where the treasurer, for example, has a higher position than the president? What are these situations?  You should also include an article that explains the procedures for meetings.  Who can call meetings?  What kinds of meetings are necessary for running the group?  Who is in charge at the meetings?  When should the board committee meet on its own?  When should it report its activity to the rest of the organization?

Finally, there should be a section of articles that explains when officers can be removed from their roles as well as how the organization should go about doing it.  You’re probably thinking that since you and your group members all get along, this section isn’t necessary.  We obviously hope that’s indeed the case, but you don’t want to be caught off-guard.  Even if writing this section makes you uncomfortable, it’s always better to be prepared.  Having a set of procedures in place means that you’ll have an official document to turn to if a conflict arises, and if you need to remove somebody from office, the guidelines on the record can limit the tensions and emotions that might otherwise run high at such times.

Where, When, and How to Write a Constitution

As you can see, a lot of work goes into drafting an organization’s constitution, and as you and your group put it together, discussions will arise that will take a lot of time to settle.  It’s a very powerful time of reflection and soul-searching for your organization, so obviously drafting a constitution isn’t something you can expect to take care of in a single regular meeting.

Instead, you should draft your organization’s constitution alone with the other officers at a place where you can concentrate and work together without interruptions.  A coffee shop or other public place might work, but it’s preferable if you can reserve a more official sort of meeting space on your campus.  This ups the ante, and puts you and your partners in a more serious frame of mind.  Still, this doesn’t mean you have to be uncomfortable: make sure everybody present is willing to be there for a while, since depending on the size of your organization, you might even need two days to sort out how to write a constitution for your organization.

The drafting process can be demanding, so it’s not going to be something you want to deal with in the middle of the school year when you have classes, jobs, parties, and club events to worry about.  The best time to draft your constitution is over a holiday break, like the summer or winter vacation periods.  If you must do it in the school year, schedule the time for drafting the constitution during a long stretch of inactivity for your student organization.

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