Raise your hand if you’ve ever agreed to sit on a board or committee and then later wondered what type of brain lapse occurred to make you think that was a good idea. Now, keep your hand raised if you’ve done that more than once in your life. Yeah, me too. Meeting inefficiencies are part of what tends to generate that shift from feeling excited about being a part of the group to wishing you were doing just about anything else. One of the primary causes of inefficiency is amendments, especially if you (or others in your group) don’t understand how they work.
Here’s an amendments quick guide.
Step 1: Make a Main Motion
Amendments are, by definition, changes made to a main motion, and you can’t make an amendment to a main motion if there isn’t a main motion being considered. So, the first step is for a main motion to be presented.
Here’s the skinny on how to do that:
- Member A seeks recognition.
- The Chair recognizes Member A.
- Member A 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.
For more details about who says what, when, and why in making a main motion, read here.
Step 2: Make an Amendment to the Main Motion
When the Chair repeats the main motion and asks the group if they want to discuss it, that’s your cue to offer an amendment if you have one.
Identify the exact words you want to change, stating whether you want to insert words, strike words, or both. Say, “I move to amend by _______________.”
Example: Member A makes the following main motion: I move that this homeowners association hold an Independence Day Bash every year on July 4th. Member B is thinking, “That’s great, but I’m not interested unless there’s for sure going to be fireworks and ice cream at that bash.” So, Member B should say, “I move to amend by inserting the words, ‘with fireworks and ice cream’ at the of the motion.”
Step 3: Second the Amendment to the Main Motion
Once Member B makes his amendment, another member needs to say, “Second” as a way of showing that she thinks the amendment is worth discussing and taking up the group’s time.
Step 4: Discuss the Amendment
Once Member B makes the amendment and receives a second, the Chair should follow these steps:
- Repeat the amendment.
- Tell everyone how the main motion would read if the amendment were adopted.
- Ask for discussion on the amendment only.
Example Script for the Chair: “It has been moved and seconded to amend the main motion by inserting the words ‘with fireworks and ice cream’ at the end of the motion so that if the amendment is adopted, the main motion would read, ‘That this homeowners association hold an Independence Day Bash every year on July 4th with fireworks and ice cream.’ Is there any discussion on whether to add the words ‘fireworks and ice cream?’”
A common pitfall to avoid at this point: Don’t discuss whether to have the bash at all, or whether to have it on July 4th, or whether to have it every year, or why Independence Day is so great. Those topics are not before the group in the case of this amendment. The topic before the group is fireworks and ice cream. That’s it. The only discussion should be pros and cons of fireworks and ice cream.
Step 5: Vote on the Amendment
After any discussion on the amendment, take a vote on the amendment alone. In other words, take a vote on whether to add the words “with fireworks and ice cream.” Again, the main motion isn’t before the group just yet, so don’t vote on whether you want to have the bash. Just vote on whether you want fireworks and ice cream at that bash if the bash is held.
Step 6: Discuss and Vote on the Main Motion
Once you vote on the amendment, you can go back to discussing the main motion. If the amendment was adopted, you’ll be talking about the main motion as amended. If not, you’ll be talking about the main motion as originally proposed.
Example: If the group voted “yes!” to fireworks and ice cream, the main motion that you’re discussing now is, “That this homeowners association hold an Independence Day Bash every year on July 4th with fireworks and ice cream.” If the amendment vote was “no,” the main motion you’re discussing is, “That this homeowners association hold an Independence Day Bash every year on July 4th.”
When discussion is over on the main motion, the Chair should take a vote on the main motion. (And yes, more amendments may be proposed and voted on during this discussion time. If that happens, just repeat the amendment process outlined above.)
One Final Note
If this process seems laborious to you—that’s because it is, and I get it. Unless you’re a professional parliamentarian, perfecting the wording of a main motion with even a small group of people isn’t a bucket list item. But just because something is tedious doesn’t mean it’s useless. Getting the wording of a main motion right is worth going through the process to get there.
Here are two simple ways to make the process less painful: (1) Take the time to carefully word main motions so that less wordsmithing is needed. Definitely avoid on-the-spot motion-crafting if possible. Maybe even hire a professional parliamentarian to help you prepare for a meeting, draft resolutions that are well-crafted, or think through wording options. (2) Improve your understanding and use of the process above so that motions and amendments aren’t difficult. And if you’re the Chair, don’t be afraid to use a script if it helps you keep track of what comes next. Putting the work into making meetings more efficient often rebuilds member enthusiasm.