Strategy Session: Contented Election

By / Jun 1, 2016 (Getty RF)
By allowing your members to vote on each one, it ensures that at least the majority of your changes should probably go through.

Get the votes you need for bylaws changes.

Reviewing association bylaws usually isn’t an exciting prospect for board members. So imagine how it feels for members when they’re required to take part too.

Larry H. Hoffer, president of the Woodworking Machinery Industry Association, had been through bylaws changes at other associations where he had worked. But at WMIA, which he joined last year, bylaws changes are required to go up for a vote among all members. That made good communication particularly important, especially since one change would alter the association’s dues structure.

“We, as association executives, have to live the bylaws in a much more regular way than your average member does,” Hoffer says. “When you’re asking them to vote on changes for things that they don’t know offhand, you have to really explain what the importance of it is.”

To that end, Hoffer got the word out to WMIA’s approximately 130 member companies via email messages and three conference-call “listening sessions” where members could get a clearer idea of the changes and the rationale behind them. “People asked good questions,” Hoffer says. “They asked why we were doing particular things, why it was important, why we weren’t more detailed in the bylaws.”

In addition to making the dues-structure adjustment, WMIA tweaked board titles and antiquated provisions like one that required meeting notices to be sent by fax. The changes passed without much of a challenge, which Hoffer credits to the communication plan.

Hoffer recommends that if your association requires that bylaws changes go up to a member vote, first make sure to do a thorough scrubbing of the full set to make sure you’re not holding multiple elections on what’s often a dry topic. But he says each individual change should get its own vote on the ballot.

“You don’t want to have 50 pro forma changes and three controversial changes, and then doom all of your bylaws changes because people don’t agree with one or two of them,” Hoffer says. “By allowing your members to vote on each one, it ensures that at least the majority of your changes should probably go through. That’s what we did.”

Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. More »


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