Constitution & Bylaws: Understanding the difference

Posted On: Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Guest blog by Jane Benzel, National Constitution & Bylaws Committee Member


It can be confusing when trying to understand where a rule should reside. Should it be in the Constitution, Bylaws, or Standing Rules? Clarity in your governing documents will help encourage compliance and greater adoption by your members. Structuring governing documents in a way every member can grasp will help ensure success for your team.

The dictionary defines the Constitution as a system of fundamental principles according to which a nation, state, corporation, or the like is governed. In the American Legion Auxiliary, it should constitute the Articles of Incorporation. It should also contain the core purpose and structure of your department or unit.

The Constitution should contain articles that are rarely changed. An example of what not to have in your constitution is the amount of dues you charge. They belong in the Bylaws or Standing Rules. Since the national organization had changes in its Constitution this year, all departments and units need to adjust their Constitutions to agree with the National Constitution.

Bylaws are defined as the governing regulations of a corporation’s or society’s internal affairs. In your department or unit, this should include how you govern yourself and any fundamental rules voted on by the organization. Bylaws should be amended every five to 10 years as needed and supported by Standing Rules.

The dictionary defines Standing Rules as issues that relate to the details of the administration of a society and which can be adopted or changed the same way as any other act of the assembly. Standing rules can be suspended by a majority vote for the duration of the session, but not for longer. In the Auxiliary, your Standing Rules should be more specific than the Bylaws, administrative, and “process focused.” They should provide details about provisions in the Bylaws. They can be amended as frequently as needed to keep the organization up to date.

Using the example of dues, in the Bylaws, it would be correct to say your unit dues would always be $5 more than the amount due to department and national, because this would naturally change if national or department changes their dues. If you stated that your unit dues are $30, this should be in Standing Rules because you would need to vote on the change of the exact amount of unit dues.

Civility lives in governing documents containing rules for all members to follow. Be sure to implement rules appropriately, follow your governing documents for how revisions should occur, and then help your members understand the changes by providing clarifying language and rationale for the change.

ALA Mission

In the spirit of Service, Not Self, the mission of the American Legion Auxiliary is to support The American Legion and to honor the sacrifice of those who serve by enhancing the lives of our veterans, military, and their families, both at home and abroad. For God and Country, we advocate for veterans, educate our citizens, mentor youth, and promote patriotism, good citizenship, peace and security.