Bylaws vs. Constitution

What's the Difference?

Bylaws and Constitution are both important documents that outline the rules and regulations of an organization or group. However, they differ in their scope and purpose. A Constitution is a fundamental document that establishes the framework and principles of an organization, including its purpose, structure, and powers. It typically outlines the rights and responsibilities of its members and provides a framework for decision-making and governance. On the other hand, Bylaws are more specific and detailed rules that govern the day-to-day operations of the organization. They often address specific procedures, such as the election of officers, meeting protocols, and financial management. While the Constitution provides the overarching principles, the Bylaws provide the practical guidelines for implementing those principles.


DefinitionRules and regulations governing the internal operations of an organizationSet of fundamental principles and laws that establish the framework for an organization
ScopeSpecific to the organization, often more detailedBroader and more general, applicable to the organization as a whole
Amendment ProcessUsually easier to amend, requiring a simple majority voteTypically more difficult to amend, often requiring a supermajority vote
ContentAddresses day-to-day operations, membership, committees, etc.Includes fundamental principles, purpose, structure, and powers of the organization
EnforcementEnforced by the organization itselfMay be enforced by external legal authorities
HierarchySubordinate to the constitution, if one existsSupreme governing document of the organization
ApprovalUsually approved by a simple majority vote of the organization's membersOften requires a higher threshold for approval, such as a two-thirds majority

Further Detail


Bylaws and constitutions are essential documents that provide a framework for organizations, institutions, and even governments to operate effectively. While both serve similar purposes, they differ in their scope, content, and level of detail. In this article, we will explore the attributes of bylaws and constitutions, highlighting their similarities and differences.

Definition and Purpose

Bylaws and constitutions are legal documents that outline the rules, regulations, and procedures that govern an organization. They establish the structure, powers, and responsibilities of the organization, as well as the rights and obligations of its members. Bylaws are typically more specific and detailed, focusing on day-to-day operations, while constitutions are broader in scope, addressing fundamental principles and long-term goals.

Content and Structure

Bylaws generally cover a wide range of topics, including membership, meetings, elections, committees, finances, and amendments. They provide specific guidelines on how the organization should function and how decisions should be made. Bylaws are often divided into sections or articles, each addressing a particular aspect of the organization's operations.

Constitutions, on the other hand, tend to be more concise and focus on fundamental principles and values. They typically include a preamble that outlines the organization's purpose and goals, followed by articles that establish the structure of the organization, the powers and limitations of its branches or officers, and the rights and responsibilities of its members. Constitutions often include a bill of rights or a declaration of principles to protect individual liberties and ensure fairness.

Adoption and Amendment

Bylaws are usually adopted by a simple majority vote of the organization's members or by the board of directors. They can be amended or revised by following a specific procedure outlined in the existing bylaws. Amendments often require a notice period, discussion, and a vote by the members or directors.

Constitutions, on the other hand, are typically more difficult to amend. They often require a supermajority vote or a special convention to make changes. This higher threshold ensures that the fundamental principles and values of the organization are not easily altered. Constitutional amendments are usually subject to a more rigorous process, including public debate and sometimes even a referendum.

Applicability and Scope

Bylaws are specific to a particular organization and are designed to meet its unique needs and circumstances. They provide detailed guidelines for the organization's day-to-day operations and are often tailored to address specific challenges or requirements.

Constitutions, on the other hand, are more general and apply to a broader range of situations. They establish the basic framework for the organization and provide a set of principles and rules that can guide its actions in various contexts. Constitutions are often designed to be enduring and adaptable, allowing the organization to evolve while maintaining its core values.

Legal Status and Enforceability

Bylaws and constitutions both have legal standing and are enforceable within the organization. However, the legal weight and enforceability may vary depending on the jurisdiction and the organization's legal structure.

Bylaws are typically more enforceable in internal disputes or conflicts within the organization. They provide a clear framework for resolving issues and can be used as a basis for legal action if necessary. Bylaws are often reviewed and approved by legal counsel to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

Constitutions, on the other hand, may have a higher level of legal authority, especially in the case of governmental or quasi-governmental organizations. They often serve as the supreme law of the land and can be used to challenge the actions of the organization or its members in a court of law. Constitutions are usually subject to constitutional review and interpretation by the judiciary.


Bylaws and constitutions are vital documents that provide the framework for organizations to function effectively. While bylaws focus on specific operational details, constitutions establish the fundamental principles and values of the organization. Bylaws are more easily amended and tailored to the organization's specific needs, while constitutions are more difficult to change and apply to a broader range of situations. Both documents have legal standing and enforceability, but constitutions may carry more weight in certain contexts. Understanding the attributes and differences between bylaws and constitutions is crucial for any organization seeking to establish a solid governance structure.

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