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8 min. read
Updated October 25, 2023
Have you ever attended a nonprofit meeting and wondered what it was all about? Did you feel like you left without anything worth noting? There likely did not seem to be any order in how the meeting was being run, right? You probably weren’t quite sure who was even in charge of everything.
You may think this is an exaggeration. Yet, it can happen if you do not stick to business meeting rules.
Nonprofit organizations hold a lot of meetings with different stakeholders. It is critical to prepare well so that everything runs smoothly. To do so, business meetings should conform to the Roberts rules of order or parliamentary procedures. But what does it mean, and why do we need it?
The business meeting rules go back to 1876, with the publishing of Robert’s Rules of Order. The author, Henry Martin Robert, was a US Army officer. He took learnings from congress to come up with rules that could apply in non-legislative settings.
You can now find the manual in schools, trade unions, churches, and nonprofit organizations. The guide establishes a democratic approach where every member carries equal weight. Further, it outlines every step in running meetings.
Organizations can achieve a lot by following the rules. Some of the benefits are:
There have been many changes since the establishment of the business rules. Yet, the essential elements that made sense 145 years ago are still applicable in modern settings. What do we mean by this?
While before, the only way to have a meeting was to have everyone in one physical location. Now, the digital space has opened up a different world altogether. Nonprofits can have discussions with people from all over the world.
All you need is the right tools and internet connectivity, and you are good to go. Platforms like Google have fantastic tools for nonprofit organizations. Google Meet gives access to video conferencing facilities. Nonprofits can host hundreds of participants at one go.
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Google for nonprofits is another fantastic platform. The best part is that it is free for such organizations. Do take a minute to check out the eligibility criteria to know whether your nonprofit qualifies.
The G-suite provides tools that help with document preparation and storage. Meeting participants can access the documents from cloud storage. YouTube for nonprofits provides a way to showcase activities using video content.
Even with all the changes due to technology, some things remain constant. Nonprofits must still adhere to the fundamentals set out in the business meeting rules. It doesn’t matter whether the meetings are happening online or offline. Everyone must abide by them.
So what are these rules?
Moderators and participants must prepare well in advance for the meeting. They should, for example, know the topics, speaker, and order of processes. All this information will go into the agenda. Allocating enough time for each can help avoid time wastage.
A formal meeting must center on a specific agenda. It should highlight the goals and plan of action. It helps if the nonprofit can prioritize the items so that it becomes easier to go through them.
The basic rules are:
It may not be possible to follow the steps as they are above. Each meeting has its schedule, so the moderators can tweak them depending on what they need to achieve.
If there is no pending business from the previous session, the team moves on to the current issues. Each participating member must have a copy of the agenda document ahead of time.
Quorum is the least number of people who should be in attendance. The participants should, however, be representative of a larger group.
The participants can vote and make motions that apply to everyone else. These also include the non-attending members they are representing. No one number or percentage defines a quorum. Every organization will come up with what they feel is representative.
The chair determines if those in attendance meet the minimum order rule. In this case, they will allow the meeting to proceed as per the order of business. If the number does not meet the quorum limit, the chair can reschedule or call off the discussion.
Do note; a quorum may have nothing to do with the number of people who attend the meeting. The organization’s rules may be that they only look at the number of board members who attend.
So, the room could be full of participants, but only one or two board members are present. In this situation, it would not be possible for the meeting to go on.
Motions are a way of bringing up new business during the meeting. A participant makes a motion. The moderator must recognize that a member has spoken.
The moderator will then call on the participants to second the motion. If no one does, the motion dies. If someone seconds it, the moderator notes it down, and it moves on to the discussion stage.
Members will then have an opportunity to vote on whether to pass the motion or not. There is also the freedom to revisit or renew the motion if the team could not reach unanimous consent.
Even within the process, there must be order in how they handle the motion and discussions.
Anyone who wants to speak needs to state their intention. He or she must then wait for the moderator to notice and give permission to speak.
If the moderator leaves the floor open, there could be unnecessary interruptions. It is in such situations that some members take things too far and can even fight.
A good moderator must also give timelines for each process. We have all been in that meeting where one person takes too long to get to the point. Sticking to timelines ensures that the process moves.
Otherwise, the discussions may run on for too long. If there is a need for more information or research, tabling the motion is the only option. That means the next meeting will pick up with the pending motion as one of the first items that need addressing.
Let’s say the motion is the need to outsource digital marketing services. Some people within the groups may have reservations about this. They may feel that the money would serve better in other projects.
The way forward could, for example, be to form a committee to research the viability of the motion. Committee members would need to present their findings at the next meeting.
Voting is critical for decision-making. Like in the case of the motion, a participant or two must second the topic. Every member in attendance has the right to one vote. If more than half the members agree, it makes up the majority vote. This could be for either yes or no.
The passing of decisions depends on the rules of the nonprofit organization. A majority vote could, for example, mean two-thirds representation at least.
Again, voting rules are specific to each organization. Some will allow active participants to take part in the process. Others leave it to board members only.
Once there is consensus in voting and no other business, the moderator will end the meeting. Like in the case of the motion, one of the participants has to second the closing.
It is critical to have records of everything that happens during the meeting. That comes in the form of minutes. They give an overview or simple explanation of everything. The document does not need to go into too much detail.
Proper minutes should highlight the date, time, and list of participants. It also shows any actions, resolutions, and a summary of reports. If there was any conflict, that must be in the document as well.
Any steps taken to resolve the dispute must also reflect in the minutes. Whoever prepared the document must include their name and signature in the minutes.
Approval of the minutes will happen in the next meeting. Most organizations leave the task up to the board, but it may vary.
Business meeting rules provide order and help you run sessions smoothly and efficiently. Every participant is clear on their roles and expectations. Abiding by the rules makes it easier to pass motions, discuss and vote on them. Additionally, you can leverage your business plan to help keep your goals, strategy, and performance in mind throughout each meeting.
Without the rules, meetings may end up in chaos. Crucial decision-making on issues affecting the organization will not be possible. By implementing them, you can keep your nonprofit organization on track and focus on what’s important—your mission.