Starting a League can be one of the most rewarding endeavors for individuals and for a community. The formal League structure includes provisional Leagues (new Leagues working toward full recognition as local Leagues), local Leagues, Inter-League Organizations (ILOs), units of members-at-large (members living outside the area of any local League) organized by some local Leagues, state Leagues, and the LWVUS.
These requirements should be seen within the framework of the League's Mission Statement: The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy.
The state League consults with local Leagues and advises them on meeting the requirements, which are intended to serve as a continuing gauge of a League's health and well-being. Some state Leagues may supplement these basic requirements with additional ones--requiring, for example, a minimum dues level or a minimum number of members based on population served.
Community Basis of Organization
Local and provisional Leagues fall into two categories: municipal Leagues that cover a single political unit (e.g., a city, township or borough) and area Leagues that include within their borders more than one unit of local government (e.g., two or more adjoining municipalities, a metropolitan area covering both city and suburbs, a county or part of a county that has both municipalities and unincorporated areas). In consultation with the state board, provisional League members decide on the area or areas to be included in the new League. The League's name reflects its geographic basis of organization.
Once a provisional League's basis of organization is set, the League studies the community to become familiar with the structure of local government, various resources in the community, issues needing citizen attention and channels through which action is possible. The information gathered through the survey may be disseminated to members and the public through a Know Your Community publication, through a series of local League bulletin articles or perhaps through a video presentation.
Local Leagues adopt, study and act on program as follows:
The distribution of population in a League's area--where members live and where the League may draw new members--is a major factor in deciding how to organize and administer League activities and communicate with members. The members of Leagues with small geographical areas usually can come together easily in general meetings and other activities, and the board can keep in close personal touch with them.
Larger Leagues covering a wide geographical area may require a series of membership meetings or units to enable members to attend discussion meetings conveniently. Ideally the board will develop ways, such as a general meeting, to foster unity within the League.
Changing Basis of Organization
If a League wishes to change its name or basis of organization to adapt to new circumstances (e.g., suburban population growth or a desire to merge with an adjoining League with which there is a community of interest), it should take these steps, in consultation with the state League:
Leagues within a county, metropolitan area or region may decide to form an Inter-League Organization (ILO) which acts on governmental issues that are countywide, metropolitan or regional in scope. ILOs are organized with the consent of the members in the participating local Leagues, must meet minimum requirements set by the LWVUS convention and must be recognized by the board of directors of the LWVUS. Like provisional and local Leagues, ILOs must understand the relationship between the various units of government corresponding to the Leagues they represent. They also should be familiar with the structure of regional bodies and jurisdictions that exist within their areas.
ILOs adopt bylaws and hold annual or biennial conventions at which all Leagues in the ILO are represented. They elect officers and directors, choose program and approve a budget. Program issues, or course, focus on the region covered by the ILO. Each recognized ILO has the right to send one voting delegate to the LWVUS convention; some state Leagues also grant ILOs representation at their conventions and councils. The state League's role in relation to ILOs is to provide guidance.
Coverage of ILO program and activities depends on the cooperation and interest of each League in the ILO. ILOs communicate with individual members of their constituent Leagues by sending them a bulletin directly or preparing an insert to be printed in the bulletins of the member Leagues. Local Leagues share the responsibility for funding the ILO, and leadership for the board of directors is drawn from members of the participating local Leagues. Besides planning and acting on the ILO program, many ILOs assist the local Leagues by coordinating functions such as fundraising, citizen education/voters service, public relations, study materials and action on state and national program.
Local Leagues sometimes decide to work together on common problems or issues through informal groupings. This is a creative way to pool resources (people as well as money) and increase effectiveness. Such groupings can be temporary or permanent, inter-state or intra-state. They do not need bylaws, although some do work out procedural agreements. In contrast to ILOs, these informal groups are not representative bodies and are not formally recognized by the LWVUS.
A wide range of such groupings exists in the League. Some simply consist of two or more neighboring Leagues that decide to cooperate on an issue of common interest. One League takes the major responsibility for researching and/or acting on a state or national issue while another does the same for a different issue.
Others are cooperative program groups that come together to work on common problems, often related to national environmental positions of the League. The Lake Michigan Inter-League Group (LMILG) is an example that dates from the 1960s. A majority of Leagues in an area, recognizing they share a common problem, set up a program group that researches the issue, explores remedies and prepares informational material for members and the public. Action is taken only if agreement on a stance or position is reached by each of the individual Leagues participating in the group. The cooperative program group does not act on its own. While the chair or a committee may draft statements and letters, and perhaps testify, this is done only as arranged with and approved by the Leagues involved.
Inter-League Councils are still another example of the informal groupings that exist in the League. These groups, usually made up of local League presidents in an area, meet informally to discuss common concerns that run the full gamut of League activities from fundraising and voters service to program/action and overall organizational issues.