What do you do when you’re sitting in a meeting, and a member makes a main motion that needs some editing? Perhaps the motion is a good idea, but it’s just poorly or imprecisely worded. Or maybe it’s lacking some necessary detail. Here are some tips for bringing that motion up to par.
1. Identify the exact words you would like to change.
If you want to take a main motion from good to great in an efficient way, start by naming the exact words that need to change. Avoid the temptation to describe what you think is wrong with the motion in general terms.
For example, let’s assume that Member A makes the following main motion: “I move that this homeowners association hold an Independence Day Bash every year on July 4th.” You’re thinking, “That’s great, but I’m not interested unless there’s for sure going to be fireworks and ice cream.”
So, option 1: When it’s time to vote, you could just vote no, of course, and reject the idea completely because there’s no guarantee of fireworks or your dessert of choice. Or, option 2: You could move to amend this motion, with the hope that if the motion passes, it will include your preferences.
If you want to amend (option 2)—and do it with clarity and brevity—you should say, “I move to amend by adding ‘with fireworks and ice cream’ to the end of the motion.”
Don’t be vague or pass the buck.
You should not say, “I sure hope ice cream or fireworks or something like that is involved here. I won’t be coming unless that’s the case. Maybe we can change the motion to say that.” And the reason you shouldn’t just talk generally like this about what you dislike or the changes you want is that it forces someone else to figure out what you’re trying to say and then work that into the motion.
That type of on-the-spot effort takes valuable time away from the individuals volunteering their Tuesday night to serve on the homeowners association board, not to mention the energy of the individual (probably an overworked staff member or the secretary of the board) who is furiously attempting to draft your amendment into something the group can consider.
At best, it slows the progress of the meeting.
Imagine this worse case: the group considers your proposal without ever figuring out exact wording and ends up adopting an idea rather than a precisely worded main motion, and what gets recorded in the minutes is just the secretary’s interpretation of it all.
That route always seems faster in the moment. But trust me—five months from now when you go to have that July 4th bash, there will be some members who will stake their life on the fact that you said you wanted to have frozen yogurt, not ice cream. (Which—to be clear—would be a real downer.)
Taking the time to identify the exact words you would like to change avoids confusion and distraction.
2. State whether you want to insert words, strike words, or both.
There are three ways to amend a motion: You can insert words. You can strike words. Or you can insert and strike words at the same time.
Using the example above, you could move to amend by any of the following methods:
- Inserting the words “with fireworks and ice cream” at the end of the motion
- Inserting the words “at the association’s pool” in the middle after the word “Bash”
- Striking the words “every year”
- Striking the word “4th” and inserting the word “3rd”
Just know that you can only make one of these amendments at a time. And the group has to discuss and vote on an amendment that’s made to the main motion before another amendment can be proposed.
3. Start by saying, “I move to amend by….”
Once you’re recognized to speak, the first words you should say to propose an amendment are, “I move to amend by.” Starting with these words leads naturally to an identification of the type of amendment you intend to make—one that inserts words, strikes words, or both.
- If striking words, say, “I move to amend by striking the words ‘every year.’”
- If inserting words, say, “I move to amend by inserting the words ‘with fireworks and ice cream’ at the end of the motion.”
- If inserting and striking words in one fell swoop, say, “I move to amend by striking the word ‘4th’ and inserting the word ‘3rd.’”
You can see how starting with the words “I really wish we could do some fireworks or have some ice cream at this event” wouldn’t follow the same tidy progression of business.
Now, my guess is that there’s some of you who are wondering what happens to an amendment once it’s made. Does the group discuss or vote on it separately from the main motion, or does it all just get folded in together? And what about friendly amendments? Are those even a thing?
Great questions. You can find basic answers in a couple of other pieces here on the blog: an at-a-glance list of what happens to motions in a meeting and this how-to guide for making a main motion. And I’ll answer all the above questions in a later post, so stay tuned. In the meantime, try putting these tips into practice at your next meeting. I think you’ll find that they move the ball forward with both precision and efficiency.