Robert’s Rules for Postponing to a Certain Time (Or Definitely)

By C. Alan Jennings, PRP

Robert’s Rules has guidelines for postponing meetings. In some ways, real life and meetings aren’t all that different. Sometimes you just need to put things off. Unfortunately, groups don’t always have all the information they need to reach a decision. As a result, continuing to consider particular motions becomes difficult.

Maybe you’ve been in a meeting and realized that some motion is taking up time better spent on something else. You know that the group needs to make a decision, but it doesn’t need to do so right now; it also needs to take care of other issues before the meeting adjourns. Or perhaps it’s officer election night, but the bridge across the river (to the side where most of the members live) is out, and you have barely enough members to make a quorum. Holding your election under these circumstances is unthinkable.

The motion to Postpone to a Certain Time (or Definitely) gives you a chance at having better luck the next time around. It doesn’t kill the motion; it simply reschedules its consideration.

Using the motion to Postpone to a Certain Time

Moving to postpone a pending main motion to a definite time is easy. You just need to decide when you want to readdress the postponed motion. After obtaining recognition from the chair, you present your motion to postpone in one of the following ways, depending on when you plan to resume the discussion:

  • Later in a current meeting: “Mr. Chairman, I move to postpone the pending motion until 8:30 tonight.”
  • Another day in a session of more than one day: “Mr. Chairman, I move to postpone the pending motion until the meeting tomorrow afternoon.”
  • Next regular meeting: “Mr. Chairman, I move to postpone the pending motion until our next regular meeting.”
  • Future event: “Mr. Chairman, I move to postpone the pending motion until after our speaker gives his presentation.”

Limiting the time of postponement

Without limits on the time allowed to move back consideration of a motion, you could postpone something until two weeks before Bill Gates runs out of cash, killing the discussion as dead as the motion to Postpone Indefinitely. The idea behind postponing to a certain time is to afford yourself the luxury of a little more time before you act on a motion — not to kill it.

Postponing to the next regular meeting

A motion to Postpone Definitely can’t move consideration beyond the next regular meeting. The membership then takes up the postponed motion as a general order unless a special provision is made to make it a special order of business — or the special order for a particular meeting.

The term, “The special order … “ refers to the single subject to be discussed when the assembly wants to dedicate an entire meeting (or major part of a meeting) to the subject. For example, if you call a special meeting to consider a motion to authorize the purchase of a new office building, that motion is “the special order for the meeting.

Postponing to a later meeting in a session

If the organization meets less often than quarterly, you can’t postpone the main motion beyond some time in the current session, which may be the current meeting only or may cover a few days, in some cases. In such a case, however, the motion may be referred to a committee to report back at the next meeting.

Postponing to a time later in a meeting

A motion postponed to a time later in the same meeting can’t be considered before that time except by a two-thirds vote or reconsideration.

Postponing to a time before the next regular meeting

Sometimes a postponed motion needs to be decided before the next regular meeting. In this case, you provide for an adjourned meeting by using the privileged motion to Fix the Time to Which to Adjourn and postpone the pending motion until then.

6 key characteristics of the motion to Postpone to a Certain Time

A motion to Postpone to a Certain Time (or Definitely)

  • Can’t interrupt a speaker who has the floor
  • Must be seconded
  • Is debatable (permissible debate is restricted to the pros and cons of postponement, and to what time the question should be postponed. Debate may not go into the merits of the main motion)
  • Can be amended (specifically, the details of the time to which the postponement is made and whether it should be made a special order).
  • Requires a majority vote (or a two-thirds vote if making a special order)
  • Can be reconsidered if adopted (If the motion to postpone to a certain time fails, it can be reconsidered as long as there has been no material progress in debate or business, otherwise, the motion just needs to be renewed.)