Robert's Rules Motions 8.26.05

This isn’t the first thing that happens but it is a great place to start. Most people have made motions, so you should know how to do it right. It’s like sex, anyone can do it, but doing it well takes practice, education, and practice. I’m only here to help with the motion, not the sex, that’s someone else’s column.

Often when you want to have the organization take action, you make a motion, you raise your hand, you stand up, you do something, but what? First you need to be very clear about what you want. Long before the meeting start preparing. Talk with someone who has been with the organization for a while if you haven’t. You want to gauge the response you are likely to get. Talk with an executive director, a manager, a board member. Work with them to craft your motion, to make sure that it says what you want it to say. Have them as an advocate, you might want to volunteer to do something to get them on your side, this works really well, it’s bribery, but totally legit. The way your motion is worded is very important. Very boring but very important, if it is ambiguous it can be viewed in a way to do something you don’t want it to do. Then again if you want to do something simple make the motion as simply as possible.

So when do you get it underway?
You cannot make a main motion when someone else has the floor. It must be seconded. It can be debated. It can be amended. It needs a majority (50%+1) to pass. It can be reconsidered.
You can’t move anything illegal, or against your bylaws, if you do, and it passes it doesn’t count.
Of course if your Legalize Marijuana group moved to hold a smoke-in, it would be, most likely, totally within your bylaws but not within the law. I don’t know if Robert would forgive you, but I will.
If a motion was already made and voted on or set aside you can’t make another motion that is essentially the same. If your LM group voted against your smoke-in, you couldn’t make a motion to have a smoke-in with chairs, it’s essentially the same motion so not acceptable. You could, however, make the motion at your next meeting. And there are other ways to bring it back up, I’ll discuss those later.
If you want to do something outside your normal scope (like it’s not within your bylaws, etc.) you have to have a 2/3rds majority. I know I just said you can’t go against your bylaws but you can go beyond them. Your LM group most likely has in its bylaws that it advocates for the legalization of marijuana, but maybe you want to make it so that not only is it legal to smoke it but also to sell and purchase it (they aren’t the same thing). You might want to make a motion to have your organization coordinate a petition drive for the legalization of the sale of marijuana. You would need a 2/3rds majority to pass the motion, but it is something you can do.
When you make a motion that isn’t a previously written resolution you should say, “I move that….” and say your whole motion, don’t just say “so moved”. Make sure you say EXACTLY what you want in the minutes, if you don’t, then the Chair can interpret it however they want. And whatever they say gets put into the minutes. You want to be clear. Say the whole thing. Make it clear. This is really important at contentious meetings. I’ve seen this happen where issues get twisted, words get distorted, and at really good meetings people get mangled. People will later get mad at the person who didn’t propose what it said they proposed, because they didn’t make it clear. Just make it a habit and always spell it out. (All the meetings that were really horrible were actually community meetings.)
You also need to actually read the minutes. I know, how boring is that? But when you see your name in the minutes attached to a motion you would have never supported when you weren’t at that meeting, you weren’t even in the state at the time…well after that, things get nasty. So just read through them. It doesn’t take long. Think of it as an opportunity to test out those new speed reading skills that you picked up from the guy on tv at 4 am.
And unless you are insane never volunteer to take minutes. If you want to volunteer for a position of power, be treasurer. You get the money, you can always take it and run off to some great tropical island with hot natives in very little clothes.
If you have a previously written out resolution you can say “I move adoption of the resolution relating to..[whatever it is]…which I have sent to the chair.” I recommend bringing copies, even get it to the chair ahead of time so they can get it out. Really slick if you can do this via e-mail.
If you make the motion you have the right to speak first in the debate after the chair restates it. This can be crucial when debate is limited. You’ll want to check your bylaws to see how this is set up and I’ll talk later about how to limit debate. So crucial if you have any kind of life beyond that meeting.

Up next? Seconding motions. I might throw amending motions in there as well. Get the boring but crucial things out of the way. After that? The fun happens. Suspending the rules! Lay on the Table! These are fun and exciting things. These are the things that people yell about. These are things that people storm out about. Well actually people yell about motions a lot too. And if no one’s ever yelled at your meeting you aren’t having enough fun. Stop the strip searches before hand so people can get into knife fights. What good is a meeting without a little controversy after all?

Join our newsletter

never miss the latest news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary for Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games!