The importance of reviewing your governing documents

Posted On: Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Many departments have taken actions to update their governing documents and catch up after missing 2020 conventions. 

Understandably, we have all been focused on making provisions for operating in emergencies as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but let’s not forget about business that was put on hold during the pandemic. 

Remember The American Legion’s mandated eligibility changes that occurred at the 2019 National Convention (1: “wives” to “spouses” and 2: Legion eligibility for veterans extended to all service since World War II)? Unless you have a provision in your bylaws that automatically amends them to be consistent with the national bylaws, your unit or department has to vote the changes into your governing documents. Does that surprise you? 

The national governing documents clarify that departments and units are separate legal entities that operate independently as affiliates. However, as affiliates of the national organization, their governing documents cannot conflict with the national governing documents. 

Not updating your governing documents with membership eligibility changes is an example of how a unit or department’s governing documents would be “in conflict” with the national governing documents. 

When it comes to governing documents, the national organization does not require departments to submit their governing documents for approval or even review. That would be an overreach of its authority over an independent affiliate.

Carrying that concept forward, a department or district should not require units to submit their C&B and standing rules for approval or review. Would it be helpful for the unit or district? Sure! Constitution & Bylaws are complicated. However, because units are independent affiliates, doing so would be an overreach of department authority, and it runs the risk of assuming liability for the unit.

Let’s take a look at the relationship between the levels of the organization. Units should have their own governing documents, elect their own officers, and make their decisions independently. Does that mean a unit can do whatever it wants? Well, not exactly. A unit of the ALA cannot declare that its purpose is now to support the red-feathered whistlebird and protect its habitat. The whistlebird is probably very deserving of conservation, but support of veterans and their families is the purpose of the American Legion Auxiliary. So, any change to the purpose in a unit’s governing documents would be null and void.

A department cannot dictate to the unit that all units will have Taco Tuesdays. Or meet on Tuesdays. Or wear only purple shirts. Units are independent affiliates, and their members vote to make those decisions themselves.

The national organization is not the grandparent, the department is not the parent, and the unit is not the child. Think of our relationships in the ALA as what we all are — friends with a common mission — to help our nation’s heroes: its veterans and their families.  

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.