Constitutions


Why have a constitution?

A constitution sets out a group’s aims and establishes the rules that govern how it will be run and how its members will work together.  Even for a small group this is important because:

  • It provides a point of reference and helps resolve any areas of contention that might arise;
  • It reassures any external bodies a group is associated with that it is properly run and its funds effectively managed;
  • It shows that a group is democratic and accountable, with clear decision-making methods.

What goes in a constitution?

A group’s constitution can contain as many components as it feels necessary, but below are some of the more common ones.

Name

State the full and shortened versions of the group’s name.

Status

State whether the group is a Partner or an Affiliate of the BHA.

Aims

State the group’s purpose and what it hopes to achieve.  Avoid lists of specific activities.  Keep to a broad definition of ideals, enabling the group to develop without needing to amend the constitution.

Membership

Describe the relationship between the group and its members and supporters.

A note about membership

There are various models of membership, but quite a good one to use is where BHA members are considered group members and non-BHA members are considered group supportersGroup members have voting and election rights and group supporters do not. Anyone who is on the group’s mailing list, or signed up in some other way (such as through Facebook), is a supporter. Group income is raised through voluntary contributions at each event (£2, for example) and through ad-hoc fund-raising activities (such as quiz nights). This is an open and flexible model, and allows people to feel free to turn up without having to commit to paying a fee.  It also provides groups with a regular income throughout the year.

Questions to think about:

  • Who is eligible to join the group?
  • Is there a distinction between members and supporters?
  • What will the membership model be?
  • What does being a member entitle someone to do?
  • How, and under what terms, may the group refuse or remove membership?

Partnership Agreement Requirements

There must be a means to refuse or withdraw group membership from any member who fails to support the constitution or Partnership Agreement, or who brings the BHA or the group into disrepute. 

Management

Describe how your group is to be managed and by whom.

Apart from the very smallest groups, most are run by an executive committee consisting of ‘honorary’ officers (so-called because they do not get paid for their roles).  They often include the principal roles of President or Chair, Treasurer, and Secretary.  See Committees and Officers for more information about committees, officers and roles.

The principal roles are usually elected directly from and by the group’s membership at its Annual General Meeting.  The group might decide to co-opt other members in order to make use of specialist expertise or to relieve their work-load.  It might also choose to nominate persons from external bodies (such as the local Atheist, Humanist and Secularist student societies).

Questions to think about:

  • Who runs the group and how many should be involved?
  • What powers and responsibilities should these persons have, and what should their roles be?
  • How are these persons chosen and how are they replaced if they leave?
  • How can these persons be removed and on what grounds?
  • How often should these persons meet and how many have to be present to be in quorum?

Partnership Agreement Requirements

There must be provision for the group’s officers to be elected at least every 2 years, with all group members given adequate notice of the meeting at which they can vote. 

General Meetings

Describe the procedures and rules pertaining to Annual and Exceptional General Meetings.

General meetings are open to all members and deal with the more formal and long-term business of the group. For example: the election of officers; the evaluation or review of the work and financial operations of the group; and the proposing and making of changes to the constitution.

There should be at least one general meeting per year (the annual general meeting or AGM).  Should a group need to hold an unplanned meeting due to exceptional circumstances it can hold an exceptional general meeting (EGM).

Questions to think about:

  • How frequently should the group hold general meetings?
  • How much notice should be given to the group’s members of forthcoming general meetings?
  • Who is eligible to vote and what are the voting procedures?
  • How many members need to be present for the meeting to be in quorum?
  • How and on what grounds may members call an exceptional general meeting?

Finance

Describe the procedures and regulations pertaining to your group’s finances and funding.

It is good practice for a group to keep a record of its income and expenditure, something that is usually the responsibility of the group’s treasurer.

Questions to think about:

  • Will the group have a membership fee?
  • How will the group raise funds (particularly relevant if there is no membership fee)?
  • Who will be responsible for the group’s funds and where will they be kept?

Partnership Agreement Requirements

The group agrees to:

  • Maintain the financial viability of the group;
  • Decide group membership policy and set fees, taking into account any learning available from others;
  • Pay the relevant BHA Partnership annual fee on time.

External Relations

State the procedures and regulations pertaining to the group’s relations with external bodies.

Partnership Agreement Requirements

The group agrees that:

  • In external activities and dealings with third parties it will support the BHA’s aims, strategy, policies and values (within the group’s resources and capabilities, and taking into account local circumstances).
  • In the unlikely event of conflict between activities in support of any other organisations that the group is affiliated to, or associated with, and those in support of the BHA’s aims, values and policies, the Partner group will give priority to this agreement.
  • It will not take any action that brings Humanism or the BHA into disrepute.
  • It will not affiliate to or publicly support any political party.

Amendments

Describe how the procedures and regulations for amending the group’s constitution.

Questions to think about:

  • Where and when should amendments be discussed and voted on?
  • What kind of voting outcome is enough to amend the constitution?  I.e.: a simple majority (over 50%) or a super majority (such as two-thirds or 75%) – the latter is recommended.



An example constitution

Download an example constitution here, or click on the blue down-arrow at the bottom right.

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Groups User,
25 May 2012 07:05
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