Key points:

  • Motions drive board and committee meetings.
  • A well-written main motion reduces the need for amendments and focusses discussion and decision making for your small charity’s governing body – its board or committee.
  • 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.

Types of motion

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, which, in turn, needs to be approved. If approved, the amended main motion (or 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 motion be considered by a sub-committee, or that it ‘lay on the table’ and be considered at a future meeting.

Motions must be moved and seconded, with discussion and debate on the motion following. After the debate is complete, the meeting chair then calls for a vote – and the motion is either passed or defeated.

Writing a motion

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

A clear, well written motion aids decision making and focuses discussion. Confusing, poorly written or unclear motions do the opposite, and can unnecessarily hinder the progress of meetings or your charity’s work.

Writing a good, clear motion isn’t hard. It just takes a little thought. 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 – if so, it may need to be included in the motion (for example, how something is going to be funded)

Your motion might also need to be split in two for clarity, or if the second part of the desired 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

'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 two – at most, three – shorter sentences.

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.

alert icon Even the best-written motions can be the subject of amendment or alteration depending on the needs of your governing body.

If this occurs to a motion you have written, strike a balance between being guided by the board and the chair, and ensuring you advocate on the substance of the motion you have presented.

Ultimately your aim should be to move your charity forward in its work.