I know the blank stares and incredulous looks very well. “Parliamentary what?” “Oh, Robert’s Rules . . . . right. I think I’ve heard of that. Does anyone actually use that stuff anymore?”
Well, actually . . . yes. Yes, they do. And here’s why.
State Laws Include Parliamentary Procedure
Many states have adopted – either in full or in part – the Model Nonprofit Corporation Act or the Revised Model Nonprofit Corporation Act. These acts govern the operation of nonprofit corporations in any state that adopts them. While the acts include many provisions that are unrelated to parliamentary procedure, they also include sections that address notice, quorum, mail ballots, proxies, elections, and special meetings – to name just a few. And even states that have not adopted the model acts have adopted laws that address these topics.
Understanding parliamentary procedure is important in order to accurately evaluate, apply, and potentially adjust the basics in a state’s nonprofit statutes for the specific needs of an organization. Can your state’s nonprofit laws be adjusted to meet the needs of your group? And how does that work? Well, that requires an understanding of how the law works together with an organization’s parliamentary authority. Suffice it to say, though, that at least for nonprofit corporations, parliamentary procedure is still “alive and well.” State laws expect that groups use it.
Many Organizations Name a Parliamentary Authority in Their Bylaws
Aside from parliamentary procedure in state laws, parliamentary procedure is still relevant because many organizations name a parliamentary authority in their bylaws. As a reminder, a parliamentary authority is a set of published rules about parliamentary procedure that an organization adopts and follows.
You probably already know the big one. Robert’s Rules of Order is the parliamentary authority that most people have heard of. But check your bylaws: If a group has adopted a parliamentary authority, the group’s bylaws will usually say so, often in a section titled “Parliamentary Authority.”
For example, the bylaws might say, “The rules contained in the current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised shall govern ABC Association in all cases to which they are applicable and in which they are not inconsistent with these bylaws and any special rules of order ABC Association may adopt.” See Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (11th ed.), p. 580, ll. 9–14.
So, to sum it up, parliamentary procedure is still used because state laws use it, and most groups still have bylaws that say they will follow a certain parliamentary authority. And quite simply, if the law or your bylaws require adherence to parliamentary procedure, you have to do it.
That’s the simple answer anyway: Use parliamentary procedure because you have to.
Ok, but that probably doesn’t answer your question. What you really want to know is if parliamentary procedure is actually necessary. Because it seems archaic, and it’s hard to learn. What you really want to know is whether parliamentary procedure is actually practical.
Cliffhanger! I’ll answer that question in detail in my next post, but I’ll tell you the short answer now: Yes, parliamentary procedure is most definitely still practical. And here’s a sneak preview of Part 2: Good group work takes finesse (i.e., some rules and strategy).