Nonprofit boards generally welcome robust discussions on motions, and when talks become unproductive, calling the question can bring them swiftly to a close.
An experienced board chair can keep board discussions productive and on track. Yet, even the most highly skilled board chair can allow a board discussion to continue longer than board members believe it should. When that happens, any member can call the question to wrap up the discussion and get the voting process started.
We’ll explain what it means to call the question and outline how the process works. We’ve also got some great tips for new board members about calling the questions and other Robert’s Rules of Order protocols.
What Does It Mean to “Call the Question”?
Calling the question is a standard board meeting protocol under Robert’s Rules of Order. As standard as it is, it’s common for board members to get it wrong.
Calling the question is called by several other names, including calling for the question, close debate, calling for a vote, vote now, and more.
The call the question definition is a motion used to end the debate on a pending question and bring it to a vote immediately. You could think of it as a vote to begin the vote.
Calling the question is a meeting protocol that dates back to the 19th century in the British parliament and is still used in legislative bodies in some form today. For example, in the United States House of Representatives, the terms and limits for discussion are defined by the House, and a call for the question only requires a simple majority to pass. Calling the question in the U.S. Senate is called cloture. It works a bit differently in that it imposes strict limitations on debates instead of ending them. Cloture requires a three-fifths vote.
What Are the Five Steps in Presenting a Motion?
To call the question according to Robert’s Rules of Order appropriately, board members need to be clear on the five steps required for presenting a motion, as they apply to motions to call for a question.
The steps include:
- The board chair must recognize anyone presenting a motion. Before anyone can present a motion, they must first be recognized by the meeting facilitator and have the floor. A board member can accomplish this by simply raising a hand and receiving acknowledgment from the chair.
- The board member who has the floor presents the motion. Phrases such as “I move that we…,” “I make a motion to…,” etc., are typical phrases used to move motions forward.
- Another board member seconds the motion. Another member states, “I second” or “I second the motion.” This action doesn’t always mean a board member supports a motion. It just means they want to discuss the motion. In the case of calling the question, the board member making a second also wishes to bring the debate to a close and ensue a vote.
- Board members discuss the question. This is an exception to a call for a question, as discussing the question is not debatable under Robert’s Rules.
- The board chair calls for a vote. In the case of calling for a vote, the board chair would immediately end the discussion and ask for a vote on whether board members want to vote on the previous question.
How to Call the Question According to Robert’s Rules of Order
If there’s ever a question about the proper protocol for calling the question, Robert’s Rules explains the process in detail.
Board members should never yell out statements like “Call the question!” or “Question!” as it’s highly inappropriate.
As explained in the five steps for presenting a motion, a member calling the question must first have the floor and be recognized to speak by the board chair. Another member must second the motion. At that point, the board chair should not allow any debate on the issue but ask for an immediate vote.
A call for a question requires a two-thirds vote according to Robert’s Rules. The reason for the two-thirds vote is to protect the rights of the minority. It also protects the majority because it takes more than one person to stop the debate.
If the motion passes, the chair takes the vote on the previous question without the benefit of further discussion.
Although this isn’t something that commonly happens, calling the question can also be used on all pending motions. When this occurs, the board chair will take successive votes on each motion presented to the board.
Board members should know that Robert’s Rules of Order regarding calling the question does not apply to committee meetings.
How New Nonprofit Board Members Can Learn About Robert’s Rules of Order
There’s a lot for new board members to learn about Robert’s Rules of Order. It’s impossible to digest all the rules in one sitting. So, how does a new board member learn about the proper meeting protocols?
New board members should know that even board members with years of experience refer to Robert’s Rules of Order as a resource. With a board management solution, you can store a copy of Robert’s Rules directly on your platform, allowing board members access to it whenever they need it. Your board management solution is also an excellent place to store the Robert’s Rules cheat sheet that outlines typical motions and protocols.
Mentorship is an effective way to help new board members learn about Robert’s Rules. Mentors have excellent knowledge about standard meeting protocols and know where to find information for uncommon situations.
Parliamentary procedure is used in legislative sessions, which are generally open to the public. It might be worthwhile for new board members to take a trip to the state’s capitol building and watch the legislators using the parliamentary procedure in action.
Serving as a board member offers valuable experience in learning about Robert’s Rules of Order as it gives them regular opportunities to observe other board members in practice and participate themselves.
Nonprofit agendas are packed with items for discussion, and parliamentary procedure is efficient for moving through agenda items. When it comes to a motion to call the question, Roberts Rules provides the guidance to manage it appropriately and without incident. Your board members will benefit by having access to Robert’s Rules during meetings to ensure the proper parliamentary procedure