Robert’s Rules for Unfinished Business and General Orders

By C. Alan Jennings, PRP

Robert’s Rules state that you have to address motions that were before the assembly but not disposed of (for whatever reason) in earlier meetings, but that weren’t made special orders. At this point in the order of business, items fall into two categories: unfinished business and general orders.

Unfinished business

Suppose you’re considering a motion to lease a pink limousine for the Elvis impersonator scheduled to headline your annual talent show. Before you can finish your debate, the group adopts a motion to adjourn. You have unfinished business, and it’s the first item you take up (after special orders) under this order of business in your next meeting.

After you decide what to do about the limousine, you’ll take up any business that was left under unfinished business in your previous meeting’s order of business. Unfinished business includes the following items, which are considered in the order listed:

  • Any item (not a special order) that was pending when the previous meeting adjourned.
  • Business items that were on the “unfinished business” list in your previous meeting but were still not taken up before adjournment.
  • Items that were general orders in your previous meeting but were not reached during that meeting. (They’re considered now in the order in which they were made general orders.)

General orders

General orders are items that were made orders of the day by being postponed to a certain time in the previous meeting so that they come up in this meeting. For example, you’re considering a motion to install a second phone line at the neighborhood clubhouse, and somebody moves to postpone the motion until next month’s meeting. The postponed motion becomes a general order for next month.

And when you give notice of a bylaw amendment that you want to have considered at the next meeting, the proposed amendment becomes a general order for that next meeting. You can also make something a general order by adopting an agenda containing the item of business, or by adopting a motion by majority vote to consider a question that’s not currently pending, such as, “I move that next month we consider a motion to host a picnic for all the soccer teams in our league.”