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We need help with the development of bylaws and/or the development of new ones. Can NAMI help?
Are there any legal resources through NAMI that can help with bylaws and other legal concerns?
When NAMI launched re-affiliation in September 2013, we also released a pro bono partners list
. The attorneys listed here are familiar with NAMI and the NAMI Standards of Excellence. If there is an attorney listed in your state you can contact him/her for advice and guidance on complying with your state laws as it relates to the Standards of Excellence. If there is no attorney in your state, contact an attorney on the list in a nearby state who may be able to connect you with a local resource. You can expect that these attorneys will be able to offer helpful guidance on bylaws and bylaws templates, operating policies and procedures and offer the required legal review letter of bylaws for incorporated NAMI Affiliates.
Can my NAMI State Organization create and distribute a bylaws template to be used by NAMI Affiliates?
NAMI strongly recommends working with an attorney familiar with the nonprofit laws in your state to develop a bylaws template that will be simple for NAMI Affiliates to use. You can use the pro bono partners list
to identify legal resources in your state who are familiar with NAMI and the NAMI Standards of Excellence. If there is no attorney listed in your state, contact an attorney on the list in a nearby state who may be able to connect you with a local resource.
Once you have a bylaws template that aligns with state law, send it to Susan Gaffney
and she will review it per NAMI Bylaws requirements and give you a "good to go" to use with the NAMI Affiliates.
Does an attorney need to review each individual NAMI Affiliate bylaws?
If a NAMI Affiliate has bylaws that were developed independently (meaning without the use of a legally and NAMI approved bylaws template – see questions/answers above) then yes, they must secure a legal review letter from an attorney that can verify that the bylaws comply with state law.
However, many NAMI State Organizations are choosing to develop template bylaws for NAMI Affiliates in their state with the assistance of legal advice. Once a NAMI State Organization has finalized a template that complies with state law (as verified by written proof from the attorney), please send the template to email@example.com
to request a NAMI review of the bylaws to ensure that they also align with the NAMI Bylaws and the NAMI Standards of Excellence. Once both the legal and the NAMI reviews are secured, any NAMI Affiliate in that state using the bylaws template will not need to secure an additional legal review.
A number of our NAMI Affiliates are simply eliminating sections from our approved NAMI State Organization bylaws that do not apply to them prior to a legal review. Is this ok?
While technically a NAMI Affiliate can do this, it may end up being more trouble than it is worth. Bylaws amended this way will need to be reviewed by NAMI State Organization staff/volunteers and secure an independent legal review. Please also be mindful that any changes to existing bylaws must be made following the process outlined in the current bylaws under which the NAMI Affiliate operates. NAMI thinks there is a simpler way.
The preferred method is to develop template bylaws. Please see the question in this section "Can my NAMI State Organization create and distribute a bylaws template to be used by NAMI Affiliates?" for more information on this process.
What is a legal review of the bylaws?
If your NAMI Affiliate is an independent 501c3, you’ll need a legal review letter. It is simply an attorney who is familiar with the nonprofit laws in your state takes a look at the bylaws and makes sure they comply with the relevent state law. It is not a legal test on every procedure in there. In each state, there are nonprofit statues that have requirements around notification period, in terms of how far in advance you need to let people know about a meeting that you are having, how you determine quorum, etc. It’s different in every state.
How often should we review our bylaws?
Regular attention is always a good idea. You don’t need to change them all the time, but annual check ins make a lot of sense. A good rule of thumb is to assign a Board Committee the responsibility to review them each year to determine if there is anything to be added, changed or removed. This helps ensure that the bylaws are an accurate reflection of your organization. Periodic legal review is also a good idea - the legal statutes that were in place 2, 5 or 10 years ago have likely shifted and your bylaws may no longer comply with local law. Check out our pro bono legal directory
for help on accomplishing this task.