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  • Writer's pictureBill

Do your board votes go like this? “Do I hear a second? All in favor? All opposed?”

Sound familiar? Making motions and voting is the primary way boards make and record their decisions. The decisions can be small, like voting to accept the minutes from the last meeting. They can also be the big ones, like voting to postpone or cancel the annual conference due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Over the years, I’ve sat through hundreds of board meetings as a guest or as a board member. Frequently I see the same pattern as above: someone makes a motion, the chair asks for a second, and then assuming she gets one, she calls for the vote. Fairly typical…and wrong.

Well, maybe wrong is too strong a word, but the “motion, second, vote” sequence misses an essential step in the process of motions and voting, i.e., discussing the motion. Let me use a typical conversation at a small FCC association meeting to show you what I mean.

The Happy Valley FCC association is making decisions about its annual conference. During the meeting, they discuss when to hold the conference, where to hold it, how much to charge, etc. A LOT of conversation is going on. Then the question of lunch comes up. What to serve for lunch? Is it catered, or will they make it themselves? How much should they spend per person? Then someone suggests they use Martha’s brother’s restaurant for catering.

Finally, after what seems like forever, someone makes the following motion: “I make a motion that we pay Martha’s brother to cater the conference lunch and serve boxed sandwich lunches at $8.00 a person.” The board chair asks for a second, and she gets it. Now all 45 minutes’ worth of discussion before the motion has been distilled down into one sentence. Someone sighs, “finally, we made a decision.” When you look closely at the motion, you’ll see it’s not one decision, it’s actually five. The decisions in that motion are:

1. We will serve lunch at the conference,

2. Lunch will be catered,

3. It will be catered by Martha’s brother,

4. It will be boxed sandwiches and,

5. The cost will be $8.00 per person.

If you call for the vote now, each board member has to agree or disagree with all five of the decisions at once. Everyone on the board may not agree with each one of those decisions, and you wouldn’t know that unless they voted against it.

The better course, and the process considered correct, would be to ask for discussion once someone has seconded the motion. That way, you give board members the chance to question the exact decision being proposed. In the sometimes chaotic board discussions, people miss details, but once they see them in the motion, their attention kicks in and questions can arise. During these “post motion” discussions, it may seem you are discussing the whole thing again, and in some cases, you might be. But here, the board chair is responsible for keeping the discussion to the wording of the motion and not let the conversation drift.

In the discussion, someone could point out that using Martha’s brother could be a problem since the local diner has been a long time sponsor of the association. (Yes, they should have pointed that out before the motion, but human nature being what it is…) The bottom line is you want to give board members a chance to think about the exact decision(s) you are asking them to vote on, not all the discussion that led up to the decision. Asking for discussion after the motion creates that opportunity.

What happens next depends on the discussion you have. In one case, board members ask questions and are ultimately satisfied and ready to vote. At that point, the chair asks for the vote, and you proceed as usual. On the other hand, someone might have a real problem with using Martha’s brother, and a large number of board members finally agree, “maybe it’s not a good idea after all.” What do you do about the motion? Here you have options. First, you can amend the motion.

For example, the board decides not to use Martha’s brother. Someone can say, “I make a motion to amend the motion, deleting reference to Martha’s brother and changing the motion to “we cater the conference lunch and serve boxed sandwich lunches at $8.00 a person.” Someone would need to second the motion to amend. The chair states the new motion and then asks for discussion on the new, amended motion. After the discussion, then you vote.

Granted, amending motions can get messy, so to keep things simple, I suggest another option. Simply state, “we want a different motion so we can vote to reject this one and make a new motion after that which reflects the will of the board.” Members could elect to vote for the original motion anyway, but hopefully, everyone is ok with starting over. Assuming the motion gets voted down, it’s done, simple, sweet, without having to remember the process for amendments. Just remember, after every motion, new or amended, there needs to be a discussion period for the board before the vote.

While adding the discussion of motions may seem to add more complexity to your meetings, keep in mind the original intent of the rules first written over a hundred years ago by Henry Martyn Robert. A frustrating church meeting sparked his goal to write rules to make meetings effective, efficient, and honor the voices of the minority. Have questions? Don’t hesitate to contact me for a free conversation about how you can take your board’s performance to the next level.

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