The Constitution, the Rules of Engagement and the Playbook: A nonprofit framework


This article was written by invitation for Interpreter Education Online in August, 2016. For a few years, I was a member the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA) Leadership Academy faculty. My webinars were focused on non-profit entities in the US. Writing this article took be back to that period of my life. Please, enjoy.


By Gio Lester, special for Interpreter Education Online

Non-profitThe number of nonprofit organizations registered with the IRS increased 2.8% from 2003 to 2013, for a total of 1.41 million organizations.[i] Meaning that even during the recession they showed momentum, and they contributed an estimated US $905,9 billion to the economy (2013).[ii]

Professional associations are a type of nonprofit and they aim to serve the needs of specialized groups. In exchange for their services, they earn exemptions from the government according to IRS and states’ rules and regulations. The IRS offers a wealth of information on nonprofits, how to incorporate, required language, how to choose the type that fits your objectives, etc. See the reference section below for a collection of related websites.[iii]

Once you identify the form your entity will take, it is time to develop the documents that will guide it into the future.

The Articles of Incorporation are your association’s constitution. It will define its name, place of business, objectives, how it will be governed, and terminated. Click here for some useful information.

Another important document is the Bylaws. It defines the rules of engagement. For example, in the Articles of Incorporation the association determines that Board members will be elected by voting members. In the Bylaws you determine how often these elections will take place, how they are staggered to allow for old and new members to work side-by-side, how long the terms are, how many times one can be reelected, how the elections will be carried out, how to handle board vacancies, how to handle members’ complaint, etc. Click here to see samples.

The third document you need is your Procedures Manual, the playbook. In it the association defines routine procedures to avoid duplication of tasks, increase efficacy and efficiency, appoint who is going to do what and how. Keeping with the elections theme, in the Procedures Manual there would be templates for the documents used during elections: notice to members, package for candidates, calendar of elections; rules on how to establish an Election/Nominations Committee, etc. I found a good starting point for a Procedures Manual here.

Another important point: all documents are organic and should be updated as needed. The growth and maturity of the organization are to be reflected in those documents for the good health of the organization.

BusinessIt is important to understand that a non-profit is a business: You have a product, goals, stakeholders (you call them “members”). You need a corporate identity; instead of departments, you have committees; you will need administrative personnel. You will need to define talking points, long-, short- and short-short-term goals, then, you assign those to someone. Meaning, identifying the need for an action is not enough, you need to assign the action to someone who will be held accountable.

Finances are a very important part of your growth and continuity. Once you reach a strong financial position (3 times your operating expenses, for example), create a Reserve, an Operational and a Projects accounts. The Reserve Account is a guarantee for the future of the organization and should not be tapped except for emergencies; the Operational Account includes petty cash, recurring payments, etc.; and the Projects account is supposed to cover expenses with the entity’s main goal(s). The way the Board decides to divvy up the treasury determines how funds are to be allocated from there on, i.e. funds coming into the entity are to be divided into each of those accounts. They can be accrued and divided at the end of a previously agreed upon period, but all accounts should receive a portion of funds coming into the treasury. You also need to plan for continuity. The three framework documents, the reserve account, and elections are your strategic pillars.

TeamworkThe strength of your organization rests with your members. Keeping them engaged and committed is vital for a vibrant organization. Showcasing your members’ talents is a great way to foster loyalty and commitment. In the organization I presided, board members were encouraged to participate in at least one committee. Committees were chaired by non-board members and the board member became the liaison to the Board, providing direct access. Through committee work, members become familiar with the workings of the organization and, later on, may serve on the Board. Members will become engaged when there are well-defined goals that meet their needs, when they see their work recognized, when their involvement has a specific beginning and end, when their dues are turned into value beyond the actual cost.

Creating aggregate value for their membership is easy to accomplish through relationships with other associations and vendors. Offer those associations and vendors the opportunity to speak to your members or to sponsor an event, such as providing refreshments in exchange for their name on the program and promotional material as sponsors. Offer also to speak at their meetings. Contact the American Translators Association (ATA), International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA), Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) and the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters to see about continuing education points. Some presentations can cross professions: medical terminology can be used by translators and medical, court and conference interpreters.

Just like a family or other organic groups, there are phases in the life of an organization. Once I was point-blank asked if I was sick because I chose to leave a leadership position. Leaders also have to set goals and realize when it is time let other voices have their thunder.

It is emotionally cathartic to go through the experience. And it is very important to know the signs. Sometimes the signs do not come from your organization, but from people close to you who miss your presence in their lives; sometimes it is the organization that is acting like a well-reared teenager. Either way, the moment comes to let others have the strength of their voices heard. It is your moment to feel proud, step back and enjoy.

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[i] Nonprofit Sector in Brief 2014 – http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/alfresco/publication-pdfs/413277-The-Nonprofit-Sector-in-Brief–.PDF

[ii] http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/alfresco/publication-pdfs/2000497-The-Nonprofit-Sector-in-Brief-2015-Public-Charities-Giving-and-Volunteering.pdf

[iii] http://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Life-Cycle-of-an-Exempt-Organization

http://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Other-Non-Profits/Life-Cycle-of-a-Business-League-(Trade-Association)

http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/c6_lifecyclechart_090811.pdf

http://www.mcknight.org/resource-library/general

http://www.npgoodpractice.org/topics/Board-Members-Guide-to-Partnership-Planning

http://www.ehow.com/info_7758501_difference-between-501c3-501c6.html

Other References:

National Center for Charitable Statistics: http://nccs.urban.org/statistics/upload/US_Nonprofit_Numbers-2.pdf

 

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