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Using Parliamentary Rules during Nonprofit Board Meetings

Unless you're presiding over a very large and formal board meeting of your nonprofit organization, you can probably get by with following just a handful of parliamentary rules.

In the 19th century, U.S. Army officer Henry Robert saw the need for a uniform set of rules to be used to manage the give and take of meetings. He published the first edition of Robert's Rules of Order in 1876. The book is now in its 11th edition and is one of the best-known books in the United States (and is available on the web).

For the purposes of most nonprofit board meetings, only a few basic rules are needed:

  • Calling a meeting to order simply announces the formal beginning of the meeting and the point at which minutes will begin to be recorded. If you have a gavel, this is the time to use it.

  • Making a motion is when a member suggests a policy or action that the board will vote on. A motion must be seconded by another member of the group.

  • If discussion is needed to consider a motion, it should come after the motion has been moved and seconded.

  • Calling the question is an announcement made by the board president. It signals the end of discussion. It's now time to vote yes or no on the motion.

  • To be strict, a motion is needed to adjourn the meeting. Most nonprofit boards don't follow this practice and adjourn the meeting when they reach the end of the agenda.

If you do find yourself leading a large and formal meeting in which you want to follow Robert's Rules of Order to the letter, you should hire a professional parliamentarian to help keep the meeting in order.

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