Creating a Nonprofit Organization Member Handbook

Mary Gormandy White
nonprofit member handbook

If you are involved in managing a membership-based nonprofit organization, it's important to make sure your group has a comprehensive handbook including details about all current policies and procedures. The document should contain information relevant to the mission and management of the organization and be available to all members, either in a printed form or online.

Member Handbook Basics

Nonprofit organization member handbooks will vary from one organization to another because different entities are not likely to have identical information to share with members. Most of these types of manuals include the full text of the organization's bylaws, information about the governance structure for the entity, and the policies and procedures that set the boundaries and requirements for participating in the group. Each section highlights a specific topic, making it easier to follow.

Strategic Plan

Share your organization's mission statement, values, goals, and strategies. It's also wise to list the standard programs and services offered annually so members are aware of your basic work.

Solicitation Policy

What limitations are there on soliciting using the membership list and at functions sponsored by the organization? Discuss how member information will be used, specifically as it relates to public reports or publications, fundraising campaigns, and sharing of information with third-party groups.

Membership Approval Policy

Let members know how new members get added and what criteria they must meet. Provide answers to questions like:

  • What procedure is used to recruit and approve prospective members?
  • What documentation is required to apply for membership?
  • Are their exclusions from membership eligibility?

Membership Obligations

Are there financial and participation requirements must members meet in order to remain part of the organization? What are the consequence of noncompliance and how will they be enforced? Answer these questions in simple terms so members understand what they are expected to do.

Board Member Election or Appointment Policies

Explain how people are selected to hold positions on the board of directors and what types of term limits are in place, if any. Give each board position a heading to make it easier for members to look up information.

Grievance Procedures

Provide information on what recourse members have if they feel aggrieved in some way. Create a numbered list with steps people should take, in order, when they want to file a grievance.

Conflict of Interest

Think about other organizations in direct competition with yours or who go against your mission. Consider if there should be an obligation to disclose any business or personal relationships that pose a potential conflict of interest for members and officers of the organization.

Grounds for Membership Removal

Explain what actions can lead to membership privileges being revoked. List out all possible reasons one might have their membership revoked. Then describe how the affected member will be notified if such action is taken. You may want to create a table with reasons in one column and their particular consequence or notification process in additional columns.

Fiduciary Policies

Describe, in detail, what type of system is in place to protect the organization's finances and to ensure that all moneys are handled in a manner that is ethical and in compliance with relevant state and federal regulations. Include copies of those regulations with your handbook.

Change Policies

Share what actions must be taken to propose and approve changes to policies, procedures, bylaws, and other details relevant to membership. Utilize a standard protocol for all changes to make the process simpler.

Creating a Nonprofit Member Handbook

The process of writing a nonprofit organization member handbook is not something that should be placed in the hands of a single individual. It's something that should be worked on by several people, ideally a committee with knowledge and experience specific to the governance of a charitable organization. Board members should be consulted and be allowed to have input in the document before it is finalized for publication and distribution. The document itself should be well written using terminology that is likely to be easily understood by the members of the organization. It should also be proofread by several people for writing style, accuracy, and to be certain that all relevant information is included. It's advisable to have the document reviewed by an attorney before publication, so you can be certain that it can provide the basis of a legal defense if membership practices are ever brought into question.

Clear Communication to Members

Members should be trained on the specified policies and procedures and should have an opportunity to ask for clarification for items that are not clear to them. It's also a good idea to have members sign an acknowledgment of receipt of the handbook that specifies that they have read and understood all the information provided in the document.

Creating a Nonprofit Organization Member Handbook