When is the last time your club updated its bylaws? 1 year? 2 years? 5 years? No matter how long it has been, it is always a good idea to update them periodically to align with RI’s policy and what you are actually doing as a club. Join us for a conversation on how your club can update its bylaws to match the needs of your members.
Host: Nick Taylor – Club and District Support Associate Officer
Christian Rietzke – Member of the Rotary Club of Metro New York City
Gregory Franks – Member of the Rotary Club of Skokie Valley and Senior Supervisor, Club and District Support
Producer: Sarah Steacy – Club and District Support Associate Officer
All Things Rotary: A CDS Podcast
1.06: “But Like, Do We Really Need To Update Our Club's Bylaws?”
Host: Nick Taylor
Guests: Gregory Franks, Christian Rietzke
Produced by: Sarah Steacy
[Intro Music begins]
SARAH: Hey, Nick - remember that Office episode when Dwight Schrute has a fire drill for everyone in the office?
NICK: [chuckles] Is that the episode where he actually starts a fire in the office?
SARAH: Yes! And his whole excuse is that he gave a PowerPoint presentation on it. But that no one paid attention, because 'PowerPoint is boring.'
NICK: I love that part where everyone is going crazy, and Dwight just stands on the desk repeating "What's the procedure?"
SARAH: [chuckles] I think that Office episode is so relatable to our work! Whenever we speak about club bylaws, it's not necessarily the most exciting topic on the menu.
NICK: Totally - but, similar to Dwight's fire drill procedures, it's really helpful to update your club bylaws regularly so that you know what to do in a metaphorical fire drill. In today's episode we get to hear from two different Rotarians and how their clubs go about updating their own bylaws. The good news: we won't be starting any actual fires in this episode.
Brought to you by: your club's bylaws! And if you don't have 'em, or you can't remember the last time your club updated them, then this episode is for you!
NICK: Welcome everyone to episode six of All Things Rotary: A CDS Podcast. You know, when we first started this podcast journey, we set a goal of making it to four episodes - so, now we've surpassed that goal and we're hitting episode number six which is super exciting! But even more exciting than that is the topic for today. Today, we are going to be talking about club bylaws - and I know what everyone's thinking: that [sigh] how's that's more exciting than that? But it is! Especially because we have two excellent guests on the show today with us. I have a dear colleague and friend, Gregory Franks - Greg, if you don't mind introducing yourself, and telling us a little bit about your Rotary story here.
GREG: Sure, good day Nick and thank you for allowing me to join you today! As Nick mentioned, my name is Greg Franks. I am in Club and District Support at the World Headquarters in Evanston, Illinois - I am a Supervisor there. I've been working for Rotary International now for 32 years and I supervise a team of three people and we work with Rotarians and clubs in the US and all of Spanish-speaking Latin America. So, a wide group of Rotarians including the Caribbean - so we get a lot of interesting questions that come our way.
NICK: Yeah, definitely a vast geographical region that definitely brings in different things with each country, which is great. Well, we also have a great Rotarian - his name is Christian Rietzke and so, Christian, if you don't mind introducing yourself, and where you're from, and which club you belong to.
CHRISTIAN: Yeah, sure! Thanks Nick, and thanks for having me on this wonderful podcast today. My name is Christian Rietzke - I am a member and, actually also, past president of the Rotary Club of Metro New York City. I'm actually originally from Germany, and that also explains how I got into Rotary a little bit, because I actually came to New York on an Ambassadorial Scholarship in the early 2000's. And, as happens with so many people that come to New York, is they forget to leave [chuckles] and, here I am close to 20 years later still in New York, Brooklyn to be precise, and I'm, like I said, a member of the club. Decided to give back to the wonderful organization that enabled me to study, get my Master's in Architecture. And I'm working in Architecture and I'm also working for Pratt Institute at an adjunct professor.
NICK: Very cool! Well, thanks for joining us today - we're excited to hear all your thoughts on club bylaws. So, club bylaws is kind of an interesting thing - I think, the other day when we were talking about this in our pre-planning session, we were saying it's kinda like insurance. Right? That you hate paying it, you don't necessarily want to deal with it, but you're really grateful whenever something happens and you need that. And so, club bylaws is very similar where you're like, "aw, do we really have to update it? Is is really that important?" And then, all of a sudden, you know, something happens in your club and somebody says, "well what does the bylaws say?" [chuckles]
NICK: [overlapping] And you're grateful...yeah, go ahead Christian!
CHRISTIAN: "It doesn't matter until it does." [all chuckle] That's what I like to say in our conversations in the club.
NICK: [still chuckling] Exactly! And so, Christian, when was the last time your club - like, is this something that you guys frequently looks at? How often do you update your club bylaws?
CHRISTIAN: We try to do it rather frequently. In just preparing for today I realized, actually, that the last time that we did this was 2016 - so it is quite some time ago and, actually, we are kind of due for another overhaul to take a look at the bylaws and, you know, just kind of make sure that they're reflecting what we do, they're reflecting Rotary standards.
NICK: And this is kind of a question for Greg or Christian, if you want to jump in. I mean, so you said the last time you did it was 2016. You're kinda realizing that now should be around the time that you look at it again. How does a club determine how often you update your club bylaws?
GREG: Nick, maybe I could jump in here because it's uh, it's good timing. I'm also in the Rotary Club of Skokie Valley, which is in Skokie which is a community just west of Evanston, where the World Headquarters is located. Been in that club for now over 10 years, and we're actually going to be voting next week on a new set of bylaws. So, about a month ago, being a member of the club and a staff member, I was asked to review the updated bylaws and, quite frankly, I don't know when they were last looked at. But, it's usually because there's someone who's really interested in things like bylaws, and they propose it to the president and then it gets reviewed. So, they asked me to take a look at those and I did and I gave them my input - and then next week we're actually going to be voting on them at our club assembly.
NICK: Nice! And so, is there a consistent way that every single club across the world has to update their club bylaws in the same format? Or, is there a procedure they have to follow?
GREG: You know, not really. It would be nice if they were looked at, I think, every year because, as we know, Rotary policy changes after every Board meeting. So, ideally, I think it would be great if there was, perhaps, a bylaws committee or a couple members of the club who would be interested in just looking at it on a yearly basis and then trying to bring it up to date. But, there really isn't any rule as to how often a club should look at them. It's pretty much up to each, individual club and I think, for that reason, many times 10 years could go by - or even longer - without a club looking at their bylaws.
NICK: Yeah, totally. Christian, does your club have, like, a committee or how do you guys decide when is a good time to update the club bylaws?
CHRISTIAN: So, the club was chartered in 2002 and the first time they were updated was a couple years in, with some amendments. And then, the next time was when I was involved with the update which was, you know, now five years ago. So, there was really no set protocol in place. It was more of a matter of, like Greg was saying, you know, somebody said "we should look at this," you know, we should make sure that we're in keeping with what, first of all, what we actually do [chuckles]. Is that what we do reflected in the bylaws? And if it isn't, should it be? Or, are we doing something wrong? Should we look back to the Rotary policies, to the suggested kind of standard club bylaws and club constitution to make sure that whatever we're doing is in line with those? With all three of those, kind of, avenues of saying this is what we do. This is what Rotary's saying - in some cases suggesting, in other cases mandating. So, it's really not a - there's no set process, and I was just thinking 'well maybe we should write that into the bylaws,' like, they should be reviewed every X years so that there's a process in place because we don't have a standing group of club members that actually keep a mind on that. It's more of a - somebody says, "shouldn't we do this?" And then somebody else says, "yeah." And then, you know, we all know the drill. Half a year goes by until somebody says "we should do this." [laughs]
NICK: [laughs] It's one of those things where you're like, "yeah, I'm gonna do that. I'll do that chore. I'll take out the trash in a minute," and then 30 minutes goes by, and hour goes by...
And, just out of curiosity, cuz you both kinda mentioned that, like, club members had comments or debates or, you know, whatever, with some of the updates. Do you remember any of the specific updates that kind of caused, like, some friction or some of those debates?
GREG: In my case, there wasn't any friction, necessarily. I think there was a little bit of confusion about: the club wanted to incorporate in the bylaws an article on Corporate Membership, and try to describe what it was and how it would work in the club. And there were a number of different issues about that so, fortunately, you know working at Rotary International, I went to our Membership area and we have an information sheet about Corporate Membership and how it may work. And so, I was able to bring that back to the members working on our bylaws, and they were able to take that and, kind of, massage a little bit, that article, that's going to explain how Corporate Membership would work. But it's been flowing pretty smoothly.
CHRISTIAN: And the same for us, in general. As far as I can remember - you know, I was looking back a little bit in the history of the process. There were some questions regarding a leave of absence policy - there's some debating about that because we were, at that time, we were having some issue with that being very gray area and members were kind of taking advantage of it, and not being understanding of how that would happen. So, we had some debates about what that means and how to actually formalize that within the bylaws so that there is a clear procedure if somebody does want to take a leave of absence. Everybody knows what to do - [Music begins] and that was kind of one of the bigger sticking points. Everything else was a pretty smooth process.
NICK: Before we dive into the second half of this episode, we want to take a moment and give a bit more background on each of these clubs.
SARAH: Yes! As Christian mentioned, he is a member of the Rotary Club of Metro New York City, which was chartered in 2002 and currently has 41 Active members.
NICK: And Greg's club, the Rotary Club of Skokie Valley, was chartered in 1939 and now has 59 Active members.
SARAH: These clubs were chartered at different times and have two very different approaches to Rotary - and their members have different needs. What's so great about both of them? They use their bylaws to reflect the culture of their club. So, if you're listening and thinking, "well, neither one of these clubs match the needs of mine." That's ok! The best part about bylaws is that you get to adapt them to your club's own needs. There is no one, right way. Well, as long as it doesn't override the Standard Rotary Club Constitution, of course!
NICK: Yes! These two clubs are kinda like a Venn Diagram. They're united in the middle by the Standard Rotary Club Constitution, but their bylaws individualize them to their unique needs of their club and their members.
Let's get back into the episode to learn more!
NICK: Nice! Yeah, I think it's interesting. So, like, from our perspective on staff, right? We're always talking about the Standard Rotary Club Constitution. So, like, as far as constitutional documents go, with specific clubs, you have the Standard Rotary Club Constitution which is the constitution for every single club all around the world. But there's part of the Standard Rotary Club Constitution that do say 'can be amended in your club bylaws,' and then you have club bylaws on top of the constitution. So, one of the questions we always get - and Greg, I'm sure you can attest to this - is people say, "well, I'm trying to update my constitution." We always say, "well, you can't really update your constitution because the constitution is actually set. What you can do is update your bylaws." And so, it's fascinating to hear how you goes have been able to go around, you know, getting your club together to actually update those bylaws. And, like you said, whenever it's needed it's something great to actually have to kind of work through as a club. And I like how you both talked about the ways that you did it, and actually making sure that everyone had a voice. Did you ever feel like - did you ever get a complaint that after the bylaws were actually updated that somebody was unhappy? Or, do you feel like everyone had input and was able to express their concerns?
GREG: I think in our case, you know, everyone was given the opportunity to provide input. I think a lot of members are just kind of willing to go along with whatever the two-person committee comes up with. And then, you know, once the final draft has been presented to take a look at that and see if it's ok. I think, in our case, what I had to remind our members who were preparing the bylaws - and it's what you alluded to, Nick - about how the Standard Rotary Club Constitution now has, you know, they allow for some exceptions - be it with meetings or membership or attendance - so they were, kind of, a little bit surprised that now Rotary clubs could vote to change or modify those parts of the Standard Rotary Club Constitution as long as it's voted on and included in their bylaws. And that was part of the, also, what I was alluding to with regard to Corporate Membership. So in the Membership area, you know, they can go in and change that.
CHRISTIAN: Yeah, you bring up a good point with the meetings and the frequency, Greg, cuz our club was actually part of the meeting frequency pilot project way back many, many years ago. And so we did experiment with different structures and frequencies of meetings and that was one of the things that came out of that: to actually say, you know, we're not meeting every Wednesday at this time, which is set in the bylaws - which we weren't doing anymore because we were part of the project. So, that was a moment for us to kind of clean that up and word it in a way that is - that allows for modifications without having to go through a bylaw change every single time you change a meeting day or time. But, in general, to answer your question, Nick, I think the members were able to contribute. Like, some people choose to some people, like Greg was saying, they just go along. They say like, "yeah that sounds good." But, at the same time, there's, you know, and on-going conversation that there's always this thought of like, "oh maybe we should update this, or update that." So there is definitely a constant open door for members to suggest something, say this is what we should be working on, as well.
NICK: Yeah, and so we've talked a little bit about how the Standard Rotary Club Constitution has changed and allowed - Greg you mentioned about - allowed for some more flexibility, right? And, Christian, you were saying, "well, we don't have to meet every single Wednesday." And in my short time here in staff with Rotary, I've seen this kind of, like, tiny shift where people want more flexibility, they want more flexibility - and then they get more flexibility and they say, "well tell us what to do." [chuckles] Right? And so, you want it but then you also want to be told how to use that flexibility. And I think having bylaws, like, specify, you know, like, Greg you talked about with the Corporate Memberships - "well, ok, here we have a flexible membership type." Well, let's use the bylaws to kinda specify how that works. Or, "ok we're not going to meet every single Wednesday. Here in our club bylaws we're gonna note how often we're gonna meet and what it's gonna look like." So that way, I feel like the club bylaws can really give your club some structure amidst all this flexibility. And it really helps clubs individualize who they are. You know, like, we're no longer in the case where if you go to a Rotary club in New York or you go to one in California - they're not gonna be the same. They may not be the same. They might not do the same thing. It's not gonna be the same, wherever you go. It's all about, like, adapting to the community, adapting to the needs of each club, and really promoting growth that, you know, a system that's gonna help grow your club. Have you guys, in either of your club situations, seen any changes that has made a positive impact through amending and updating your bylaws - and then you've seen a positive impact, whether it be growth or culture or positivity - whatever it may be?
GREG: I think, in my case, it remains to be seen now - once we approve these final bylaws, the final version of the bylaws. Like I said, my club has been around since 1939 and so things kinda just go along in their normal fashion, week after week. But, I believe that the aspect of flexibility, once again, has been well-received especially with the idea of, as I mentioned before, Corporate Membership. So, I don't think my club is necessarily one that is on the cutting edge of change, but they're willing to accept change. And this is one case where the flexibility regarding membership, I think has really helped because, during this past COVID year, if you will, we've actually increased membership and we're up to - we were at 49, well maybe 53 I think at the start of the year - and we're up to 65 right now, and part of that is with Corporate Membership, sort of, idea. And, of course, a large degree, as we know, we have a very active membership chair and a past president who are going out there and just asking people to join the Rotary club. And, since we've been meeting virtually, I think it's made it a little bit easier for people to say "yeah, I could do that from my home base, and I don't necessarily have to travel to the meeting." so, I think that flexibility has helped.
CHRISTIAN: Yeah, and in our case - I mentioned the meeting frequency beforehand, and that was really a big boost for the club, cuz the club was very small when I joined. I think, at that time, I was not the 7th member overall, but I was the 7th person that became a member of that club at that time. So we were very, very small and growth after that, after being able to space the meetings out a little bit more, really exploded. We, pretty much - we're currently at 42 which has, you know, been kind of the number we've been at for a couple years now. But that change really enabled to focus a lot more attention on getting members to join, versus organizing meeting. Because, if you're a small group and all you're doing is preparing for a meeting and, you know, preparing for the next meeting and the next meeting, that's pretty much taking up most of the energy of the club. So, that was really a big change. And also, I think in general - we talked about this before, but, just having a clear set of rules that's written down somewhere - somebody's having a discussion with somebody else, an argument about something - "oh let's take a look at the bylaws, let's see what they say," and that can quickly resolve these conversations that do sometimes get a little out of control [laughs]
NICK: Well this has been really great information! As we kinda close up this episode, we'd love to hear from both of you just your opinions, or maybe one last, little plug. Like, if a club is looking - maybe they haven't updated their bylaws in 10 years, and they're looking to update their bylaws - where's a good place to start? What's your recommendations?
GREG: I think mine, quickly, would be find someone who likes working with minutiae and detail, and who is a good writer. And find someone who's a good editor. So, those two people. One could go through it, or both together, but they could have, you know, two sets of eyes looking at this and then to share frequently with the board, and or the club before they come up with their final draft.
CHRISTIAN: Yeah, couldn't agree more! I think that's very well-said. The attention to detail and the ability to cross-reference and write generically, but specifically, [chuckles] I think that was one of the things that I've definitely learned through the process of being able to word something carefully. And having multiple sets of eyes that you can cross-check with and bounce things off of, I think that's very vital. But, yeah, you need a person who's willing to really own this. I think that's the key.
NICK: Yeah, and my last recommendation - I'll add on to that - is just really talking with other clubs who have done it. You know, get opinions from other people. [Outro Music begins] See how they've done it. Adapt it to your club and the needs of your club and community.
Alright, everyone, hope you've enjoyed today's episode! Wanna give a special thanks to Greg and Christian today for sharing their club experiences with us. If you have any questions, or would like to follow up, please reach out to your CDS representative or email CDS@rotary.org.
Thanks again for listening! See you next month on All Things Rotary: A CDS Podcast