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Key points:

  • Motions drive board and committee meetings.
  • A well-written main motion reduces the need for amendments and focuses discussion and decision-making for your small charity’s governing body, which is made up of its Responsible People (board or committee members).
  • Sometimes motions may be modified or amended. Some might be the subject of a follow-up (formally called a subsidiary) motion.
  • It should always be clear which motion or amendment your board or committee members are voting on.

The most common motion any charity – particularly small charities – will deal with is a main motion. Main motions are items that are to be presented to a charity’s governing body (or wider membership, where appropriate) for discussion and decision.

Normally, these motions are listed on the meeting agenda and are preceded by discussion or debate.

A main motion can be subject to an amendment, and this amendment also needs to be approved. If approved, the amended motion can be voted on by the charity board or committee.

A main motion can also be affected by other motions. For example, a subsidiary motion might be moved so that the main motion be considered by a sub-committee, or that it be ‘laid on the table’ and be considered at a future meeting.

Motions must be moved and seconded, then they can be discussed and debated. After the debate is complete, the meeting chair then calls for a vote and the motion is either passed or defeated.

When it comes to writing a motion for a board or committee meeting, clarity is key.

A clear, well-written motion aids decision-making and focuses discussion. A motion that is confusing, poorly written or unclear does the opposite, and can unnecessarily hinder the progress of meetings or your charity’s work.

Writing a good, clear motion isn’t too difficult - it just takes some thought. When you are writing a motion, you should take a few minutes to clarify:

  • what you want to achieve with your motion
  • the details that are needed in the motion to make it clear for other board or committee members (dates, times, facts and figures)
  • whether there is a financial component to the issue (such as funding) – if so, it may need to be included in the motion.

Your motion might also need to be split in two for clarity, or if the second part of the proposed action is dependent on the first part being approved.

Once you’ve thought through these details, writing a motion becomes far easier.

'Concise' and 'precise' are the two key things to keep front of mind when drafting a motion.

Endeavour to keep any motion you write to a few short sentences. The motion should include details of what needs to be done, as well as timelines, costs and, if required, who is responsible for following-up or following-through.

Most importantly, don’t be vague.

A vague or imprecise motion is likely to need an amendment before any vote, and if it is not amended, it can be the cause of some confusion down the track.

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