When it comes to a quorum requirement, most people assume that bigger is always better. But that’s actually not true, and here’s why.
First, let’s make sure we are on the same page about the meaning of the term quorum. A quorum is the minimum number of members—typically expressed in a percentage—that must be present for a group to conduct business.
Don’t confuse the meaning of quorum with the meaning of majority.
- A majority is the number of members that must vote in favor of an action for the action to be adopted.
- A quorum is simply the minimum number of members that must be present for any actions to happen, regardless of whether all of those members actually vote. A motion can be adopted or defeated with less than a quorum voting as long as a quorum is present.
Now, here are the reasons I’m recommending that smaller is better when it comes to quorum.
1. A smaller quorum requirement provides flexibility.
High on the list of the most frustrating circumstances a group can experience is a quorum requirement that prevents consistent meetings because not enough members attend to satisfy the requirement.
As a professional parliamentarian, I’ve experienced this unfortunate circumstance a number of times with organizations who have set a very high quorum requirement. These groups tend to start meeting less frequently because they are tired of haranguing people about coming, and then the problem begins to snowball—fewer meetings mean less momentum and excitement, and when there’s no excitement, convincing members to spend their time at a meeting gets even harder because there’s no readily apparent return on their investment of time. Then, a real problem exists for that group because they can’t get enough members to show up to vote on lowering the quorum requirement.
Even if a group isn’t quite to the place where it can’t meet a quorum requirement, being borderline on this issue is just as frustrating because it requires a fair amount of energy from the staff and other key individuals to confirm and reconfirm attendance in the days leading up to a meeting.
The better path is just to make the quorum lower in the first place. Here’s the magic number: Ten percent tends generally to be a good rule of thumb.
2. A smaller quorum requirement protects a group’s ability to make strategic progress.
There’s a common objection to a lower quorum requirement, and it goes like this: “If we lower our quorum requirement, we are opening the door to action being taken by a smaller group that isn’t truly representative of the organization as a whole. That’s risky because that tiny group might make a decision on a significant matter without enough input from a sufficient number of members.”
Here’s my response: Yes, that is precisely the case. But only if the members make that choice themselves by not showing up. In other words, the scenario described in the objection above doesn’t have to happen nor does it automatically happen simply because a lower quorum requirement exists.
A quorum requirement is a minimum number of required members, not a maximum. A lower quorum requirement does not prevent the participation of any single member or even a large number of members in the decision-making process. What a lower quorum threshold does prevent is stalled decision-making when a sufficient number of members are unable or unwilling to attend.
The goal of a quorum requirement is to protect the organization by (1) requiring enough members to attend to allow for decision-making that is reflective of the organization, but (2) not requiring so many members to attend that decisions can never be made.
One final tip: A quorum requirement does not have to be the same for all types of action that a group might want to take. This is a further solution if you’re worried about the objection discussed above. If there are specific topics that you think are especially important, such that a significant number of members really should be present for them—e.g., bylaw amendments or real estate transactions—you can set a different, higher quorum for those topics. To do this, you would simply add a sentence to the relevant portion of your bylaws that states the quorum required for those actions.