A Quick Guide to Friendly Amendments

If you’ve ever attended a meeting and heard (or said) the words, “I’d like to make a friendly amendment,” you’ve probably also had the privilege of observing the very special kind of chaos and confusion that occurs in the moments right after those words are said. Here’s a brief guide to understanding friendly amendments and hopefully reducing some of that chaos.

1. What is a friendly amendment? 

A friendly amendment is the not-so-technical term for a change offered to a main motion by a person who thinks that (1) a proposed change will make the main motion better or more likely to be adopted and that (2) the person who made the main motion will agree that the change is a good idea.

Here’s a simple example.

At the February 2022 board meeting of the local theater, Board Member A makes the following main motion: “That the theatre hold a costume party fundraiser in October 2021 and give the proceeds to the theater’s camp scholarship fund.”

Board Member B realizes immediately that Board Member A is still caught in a COVID-what-year-is-it-fog and meant to say “October 2022,” not “October 2021,” and so Board Member B proposes a friendly amendment to change “2021” to “2022.”

The amendment is indeed friendly because it will make the motion better, it is definitely likely to be adopted, and Board Member A isn’t likely to disagree with it.

2. Why call an amendment “friendly”? Why not just call it an amendment? 

People tend to call an amendment “friendly” when they want to bypass the Robert’s Rules procedures for processing an amendment. As a quick review, the usual official amendment-making process looks like this:

  • Member A obtains recognition from the Chair and makes a main motion.
  • Member B seconds the main motion.
  • The Chair repeats the main motion and asks the group if they want to discuss it.
  • During discussion, Member C obtains recognition from the Chair and makes an amendment.
  • Member D seconds the amendment.
  • The Chair repeats the amendment and asks the group if they want to discuss it.
  • Following discussion of the amendment, the group votes on only the amendment.
  • Following any further discussion on the main motion, the group votes on the main motion as amended.

Now, when a member says that he wants to make a “friendly amendment,” often that member is hoping to shortcut the process above—omitting the discussion and the vote on the amendment. In other words, he is hoping that because his amendment is “friendly,” the request for the change is enough and the amendment can just be incorporated into the main motion, as long as the maker of the main motion doesn’t object.

On the surface this seems like a win-win situation. Anything to move the meeting along, right? Well, sort of. Keep reading.

3. Does a friendly amendment need discussion and a vote?

It depends.

Here’s the rule: Any amendments suggested before the Chair has repeated the main motion can be made by the maker of the main motion alone without a separate amendment discussion and vote. Any amendments made after the Chair has repeated the main motion must be discussed and voted on by the entire group, even if the amendment is the epitome of friendly, and even if the maker of the main motion thinks the change is the best idea ever.

Here’s the why: When the Chair repeats the main motion, the ownership of that motion changes. Before the Chair repeats the motion, it is “owned” by the person who made the motion. After the Chair repeats the motion, it is “owned” by the entire group. So it follows, then, that before the Chair repeats the motion, the maker of it can make any changes she wants because she owns it. But after the Chair repeats the motion, any changes need the permission of the new owners—the entire group.

Here’s the reasons behind the why: Two key parliamentary procedure principles are at work here—efficiency and fairness. Before the Chair repeats the motion, the group hasn’t invested any time in discussing the pros and cons of the idea or in perfecting the wording so that it reflects their precise wishes. So, allowing the maker of the motion to make a few tweaks on the “friendly” suggestion of other members might actually save time, and it’s fair—the motion was that person’s idea.

But after the Chair repeats the motion, the group begins to debate it and amend it formally. So, giving one member the power to make a change after the group has already spent time talking about it is not fair and means that discussion time was at least at some level, a waste. Maybe the change is a good one, but at that point, it’s the group that gets to make that decision, not the maker of the motion.

The Takeaway

The next time you hear someone say, “I’d like to make a friendly amendment,” ask yourself the key question—whether the Chair has already repeated the main motion and presented it to the group for discussion. If so, that amendment—friendly or not—is really just a regular amendment, and the group gets to discuss and vote on it like any other amendment. You’re in the clear if you stick to this practice—even if the maker of the motion herself thinks the amendment is awesome.