"Parliamentary law is the best method yet devised to enable assemblies of any size, with due regard for every member's opinion, to arrive at the general will on the maximum number of questions of varying complexity in a minimum time and under all kinds of internal climate ranging from total harmony to hardened or impassioned division of opinion."
Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised
The previous column, summarized how and why to upgrade your parliamentary procedure (PP) skills. There are a variety of resources and several approaches, and if you take the initiative, you and/or your organizations can become PP-proficient. However, PP is not an isolated process. It only provides the group decision making framework. The organization must fold in pertinent new decisions and make them part of the operating context for its members. If they fail to do this, PP operates on a shaky base.
Even though much of the world is now wired, few associations have built a digital infrastructure to help "grow" the organization. A foundation layer of knowledge that builds a community of interest and fires the imagination is required. Ideally, the organizational infrastructure is like a knowledge management system.
Large, national organizations have traditionally tried to provide the knowledge base via a hard-copy annual membership directory/handbook. Now more current operating information can be provided on the organization's Web site. What to share and when to share it are not hampered by cumbersome distribution issues.
Observe how the associations you belong to either build or fail to build a knowledge infrastructure. Are new members, new officers and interested third parties oriented easily to organizational goals and procedures? Is there support for learning and using PP? Is access to knowledge about the organization and its decision-making procedures provided and easy to find? Is information organized and filtered for future use? Is information distributed to members and officers on a timely basis? Ask yourself how many of the following tools are readily accessible to you in your organizations:
Bylaws, Constitution and Articles of Incorporation - Sad to say I have often been at meetings where a Bylaw issue came up and no one had a current copy of the Bylaws. When a current copy is found, it is not annotated with a history of amendments, repeals or date of adoption. Information regarding incorporation, date, status and registered agent seems to get lost also.
Organizational goals - Long term goals are usually expressed formally in the Bylaws but it is worthwhile to express them again informally in plain language. In addition, each President and new Board has short term goals and priorities which need expression.
Agenda - Post the agenda for the current meeting when announced so that members are alerted to the business scheduled for consideration. If items can be added to the Agenda at the meeting, announce the procedure in advance. Streamline the agenda by asking Committee chairs to submit reports in writing. Put major Action Items first.
Minutes - Post the Minutes online for at least a year. You may want the Secretary to maintain a Log of Standing Rules or Substantive Motions that have enduring impact on the operation of the organization. (Sort of like codifying the statutes.) Organizations often take positions on issues newer members know nothing about or others forget.
Calendar - Provide a calendar of regular meetings, special events and deadlines for nominations and elections. Much time is wasted and confusion created by organizations failing to create an annual calendar and then to make the calendar accessible.
Map - Make the meeting place easy to find. I recently went to a hearing before the Los Angeles Building and Safety Commission. In preparation, I visited their Web site. The Agenda was posted three days in advance. There was a Roster of the Commissioners and a summary of the hearing procedures. Great, I gave the Commission kudos. Then I realized there was an address but no map of how to get to the meeting site or parking.
(Yahoo does not provide detour information.)
Roster - Many small organizations fail to create and maintain a Roster that includes officers, directors, and committee chairs with addresses, phone numbers, Emails, FAX numbers. Photographs are nice as well and now easy to include digitally.
Officer's and Committee responsibilities - It is surprising how difficult it can be to determine who does what. The Membership Chair does not always send out renewal notices. Sometimes it is the Treasurer. Who puts the Newsletter together, who corrects address changes and who maintains the Officer Roster so there is an historical term record of who has served? Who maintains the Web site?
Officer and Director Training is vital. It need not be elaborate and can be made more efficient with a list of duties and responsibilities or a manual.
Budget and expenditure procedures - Members need to know how to document and present authorized expenditures for reimbursement. Explicit procedures help officers to not overlook mandatory IRS or Department of Corporations filings. I am a member of a regional chapter of a national organization which handles the registration for large athletic competitions. There is a big flow of money through the organization's treasury. At any given time, it may appear the organization is flush when it is just breaking even. With all this activity and no procedures, the new Treasurer failed to file the required reports with the IRS for two years in succession. Result was a $5,000.00 penalty.
Financial Statement in summary format for members to be aware of the financial condition of the organization and where the money comes from and major expenditures.
Chronology of accomplishments and awards - Every organization should maintain this list. Memories are short and dates of accomplishments, exactly what they were and who was involved grows fuzzy. The list should included awards received or given by the association. This information is very difficult to re-construct from the Minutes.
Links to other groups whose goals and operations are related. This may include elected and appointed government officials.
Parliamentary authority - Specify what the authority is. If the authority used by the organization is Robert's Rules, include a link to that site. Encourage members to refer to it. Include a brief statement from the President about the organization's philosophy and policy with regard to parliamentary procedure. At meetings provide members with laminated cheat sheets summarizing motion information. Include PP tips in the association's newsletter. Make PP easy to use and understand. The President can do a great deal to create a "learning" climate, making it o.k. for members to make a PP mistake. Being publicly corrected is not a punishable offense.
These are some of the basic tools. Ideally, they are online but can be provided offline in small organizations without a Web site. Each group will have others to add. The idea is to enable members to make informed decisions on the questions before them, and to have positive attitudes about the organization. When organizational information is not readily available, members lose sight of the goals. Ultimately, the organization may be forced to disband. (This is why there is always a dissolution clause in the Bylaws.)
Part 3 of this series on Parliamentary Procedure will be "The Reality."
What is really happening in your organizations? I will create a tapestry from your stories. Please forward them to me by Oct. 10, 2000 at firstname.lastname@example.org and give me permission to edit. The greater the cross section of organizations types, the better. Examples from the Succulent Society or Friends of Dracula are fine. How did you learn and/or improve your PP skills? Do any of the organizations you belong to sponsor a PP workshop? Is there an accessible information infrastructure for the organization? What frustrates you most about organizations? Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised takes 58 words to say what PP is about, can you do it in 25 or less?