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The Nonprofit’s Guide To Parliamentary Procedure

The Nonprofit’s Guide to Parliamentary Procedure

Nonprofit boards benefit from multiple perspectives in decision-making. Without order, too many ideas can lead to chaos and confusion. Procedures that create order allow all board directors to participate in meetings in a fair and consistent manner in which all board members can listen and be heard.

Parliamentary procedure relates to the rules of democracy, which means that laws, rather than individuals, define order. Board meetings provide a prime example of how parliamentary procedure helps groups to discuss actions and make decisions in a timely, orderly manner.

The most commonly used parliamentary procedure is Robert’s Rules, although there are a few other lesser-known authorities. The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure (4th edition) provides an easier introduction to parliamentary procedure than Robert’s Rules.

The rules provide a general outline for how to conduct meetings properly. Large, formal corporations and organizations tend to follow formal procedures. Nonprofits and small organizations may actually find it more efficient to relax some of the rules a bit.

Issues That Parliamentary Procedures Cover

Parliamentary procedures explain nearly all issues that nonprofits encounter during the course of their meetings. Here’s a partial listing of issues that parliamentary procedures address:

  • How to run elections
  • Voting procedures
  • Writing and amending bylaws
  • Rules for quorums
  • Holding board and committee meetings
  • Making motions and the order of precedence
  • Roles and duties of officers
  • Minute-taking

Aligning Level of Formality With Board Size and Need

Nonprofit boards can make the most of their board meeting time by keeping formalities to a minimum. Forgoing some of the formalities allows nonprofit boards to focus more on strategic planning and fundraising. Spending too much time with formal practices can actually hinder a nonprofit board’s work.

Here are some ways that your nonprofit board can eliminate unnecessary steps and still run a professional and productive board meeting:

  • Allow members to speak while seated
  • Allow the chair to permit a free-flowing discussion as long as members aren’t speaking over one another and all members are participating in the discussion
  • Eliminate the requirement for board members to identify themselves before speaking
  • Allow board directors to start a discussion without first making a motion
  • Relax some of the rules for the order of precedence for motions
  • Allow members to speak a second time on a motion before others have spoken first
  • Allow members to speak on a motion more than twice in a day
  • Allow the presiding officer to participate in debate
  • Allow the presiding officer to sit when calling the meeting to order, adjourning the meeting, putting motions to vote and while explaining a ruling
  • Permit the presiding officer to make motions and to vote
  • Permit voice votes in lieu of standing votes, ballots or electronic votes
  • Make some decisions by unanimous consent or consensus

Bear in mind that some degree of formality is necessary to keep order. The idea of reducing formality is not to stray from parliamentary procedure, but to keep the meeting focused and productive. If the meeting is getting out of control, the board chair has the authority to re-introduce formal procedures to help keep order.

Using a Board Portal as a Complementary Tool to Parliamentary Procedure

While it’s important for nonprofit board meetings to have enough structure to fulfill their legal responsibilities, boards that take advantage of tools such as parliamentary procedure and digital software solutions will gain the advantage of having more meeting time to focus on their priorities.

BoardEffect’s board portal makes the work of creating a board book easy with an intuitive online format. It’s as easy as typing the agenda items into the fields. Board directors can access the agenda in real time using any mobile device, so they’ll have constant access to last-minute changes and additions. The software allows board directors the ability to enter a secure board portal to mark up, annotate and share documents securely.

Given their workload of fundraising activities, managing volunteers, applying for grants and supporting their cause, nonprofit board directors have many annual duties to address to keep their nonprofit status.

A board portal simplifies many of the routine recordkeeping processes for policies, budgeting, auditing, elections, succession planning and other strategic responsibilities. In addition, the board portal is an excellent tool for boards to develop new board member orientation tools to streamline the processes of orienting and onboarding new members.

Nonprofit boards will find many uses for the online survey tool. The tool is built into the portal and boards can use it for informal surveys, as well as annual self-evaluations for the board and for individual directors.

Finding Additional Training in Parliamentary Procedure

Boards may choose to purchase a paper copy of Robert’s Rules of Order or The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure as a handy reference for use during meetings. Boards will also find the online version of Robert’s Rules of Order if they prefer.

Nonprofit organizations that wish to learn more about parliamentary procedure will find help through one of two professional nonprofit organizations that certify parliamentarians. Certified parliamentarians are available to advise nonprofit board members about parliamentary procedure, officer training, elections, bylaws changes and holding effective meetings. Both organizations have two levels of parliamentary proficiency. The American Institute of Parliamentarians offers the Certified Parliamentarian and AIP’s highest parliamentary classification, Certified Professional Parliamentarian. The National Association of Parliamentarians offers the Registered Parliamentarian and NAP’s highest parliamentary classification, Professional Registered Parliamentarian.

Concluding Thoughts on Nonprofits and Parliamentary Procedure

Nonprofits are governed at the state level. Nonprofit organizations should be familiar with their state laws governing nonprofits so that they remain in compliance. State laws don’t require nonprofits to use Robert’s Rules or any other program for parliamentary procedure. State laws concerning nonprofits often incorporate some aspects from parliamentary procedure into their laws, such as notice, quorum, voting procedures, elections, special meetings, teleconferencing and videoconferencing.

While parliamentary procedure isn’t a legal requirement, states do expect nonprofits to use some form of parliamentary procedure. Nonprofit boards may name the specific type of parliamentary procedure their boards must use.

Parliamentary procedure is part of best practices for boards because it helps ensure an efficient and effective board meeting process.

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