Bylaws are a basic part of the governance of any organized group. Establishing rules, structure, and guiding principles, bylaws live up to their name: by these laws, a group holds itself accountable and becomes dependably managed. Without bylaws, a group that doesn't articulate its own standards risks flagging membership and organizational instability....
As a college English professor, I couldn’t imagine teaching any class without having prepared a course syllabus in advance. I sometimes think I rely on it more than my students do. In large measure, it’s written as a conversation with myself, explaining what the course is all about, what to expect of myself, what I expect of my students, and what happens when those expectations cannot be met. It also legally protects me and my college from disputes over course content and grades. I suppose that’s why, over the years, my syllabi have become lengthier and more detailed: the more litigious the campus environment becomes, the more I need to codify learning outcomes and classroom behavior. In short, my syllabi are my bylaws.
For corporations and nonprofits, organizational bylaws are also legal necessities. PPI and most other paranormal investigation groups, however, are not-for-profit. That’s another way of saying we operate as a club or a hobbyist group. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t value rules, order, and a clear charter. In fact, whether club or company, codifying the organizational structure, the underlining values, and the overarching mission of your group provides all the same stability and clarity for its members that a syllabus provides for students. Bylaws serve as a reference source tailored to the ideals of your group, and they can offer guidelines to counsel you in the day-to-day running of it.
It’s an unfortunate reality, but a significant number of newly formed paranormal groups dissolve after one or two years due to internal struggles, disputes over methodologies, member attrition, problem personalities, as well as conflicting interests and goals. The lack of a shared vision, coupled with a failure to plan ahead, is the underlying reason for all these stumbling blocks. PPI was a casualty of this as well: having been chartered out of a garage in April 2006, Pacific Paranormal broke up into three groups within the span of two years. We grew too large, too fast, and not everyone wanted to move the group in the same direction. Some of us wanted to grow a business of paranormal tours. Others were interested in getting onto TV. A modest number of us were more interested in the client outreach and research side of things. When our big, dysfunctional family parted ways in 2008, that modest, ragtag assortment of nerdy researchers and skeptics, which included founder Glenn Pitcher, inherited the remains of the group, retaining the name “Pacific Paranormal Investigations.”
It was a messy breakup, to be sure. When we gathered to elect Glenn as our new president, it was already understood that governance, better planning, organizational structure, and a clearly articulated set of institutional values were going to be the very things that would help us rise out of our own ashes to remake ourselves. In 2008, PPI Core member Brian Miller, an experienced union organizer, drafted PPI’s first set of bylaws. They’ve undergone some revisions and amendments over the last ten years, but they continue to serve as our charter. More importantly, they contribute to our brand identity as a paranormal research and outreach group, clearly outlining our shared values. They’ve helped not only to make us cohesive, but also to remind us of our united purpose. Without a doubt, they’ve been an instrument of solidarity for us.
In sharing our bylaws with the public, we hope to offer a model of organizational structure that will sustain your group for years to come, creating a foundation on which to build to its reputation as well as the close relationships of your team members.