Giving your Clubs Constitution the Respect it Deserves

23 May 2019

We all know a club's constitution is one of the most important documents a club has. It is effectively the contract between a club, its committee and the members. A constitution should be an up-to-date working document and will often be the first port of call in working out how to resolve an issue with members.

However, clubs are often reluctant to invest in their constitution and a number of clubs look to cut costs and had have a go at updating their constitutions themselves. We often see clubs rushing through changes to their constitutions because they have suddenly encountered an issue that had not been previously identified. 

More recently we have seen clubs rushing through changes at the request of outside agencies and departments such as the DIA, District Licensing Committees and even IRD.  The danger in this is that demands of these agencies are often contradictory, not fully understood and even look to restrict the clubs ability to make changes to its constitution in the future.

It is important that committees and managers regularly review, and have a good think about, their club's constitution. It can even be beneficial to chat with other clubs to see how their constitution deals with potential issues. However, at the end of the day, a constitution and a notice of meeting are legal documents and rushed, ill-researched, 'DIY' changes can lead to problems.

There are real risks for a club simply trying to 'cut and paste' a provision into their constitution without first properly reviewing all of its own rules.

For example, we have seen a club that introduced detailed provisions on postal voting but failed to amend another rule which still required that members be personally present at the club while voting on the election of the committee.

Often a subject may be dealt with in two or three places in a club's constitution (regarding different aspects of the subject) and amending only one part (without dealing with another) may lead to the document being incoherent. Even if the document can be made sense of, there is the risk that a member may find the inconsistent provision and use it to cause unrest with other members.

Another trap can be issues relating to definitions for classes of membership which may change over time. For example, a club's constitution may provide that "voting members: comprise a number of categories. This can lead to an issue if the club later combines those categories to create a new category without updating the definitions.

Ultimately, these sorts of inconsistencies can lead to disputes or mistakes that could have been avoided by having the club's solicitor review the proposed changes. In the same way I am told that I could have avoided the extensive mopping of my kitchen floor if I'd used someone who fixed dishwashers for a living rather than trying to do it myself.

Top Tips

  1. Make sure that reviewing the clubs constitution is an agenda item for the first committee/board meeting of each financial year.  This ensures that the constitution is looked at and discussed at least annually and potential issues are identified well in advance.
  2. Regularly download the Clubs New Zealand model constitution and compare it to your clubs constitution.
  3. Talk to other clubs, find out what issues they have identified and how they have gone about making changes.
  4. If you are told by anyone outside of the club that you need to change your constitution - seek legal advice - you need to fully understand the impact of those changes.
  5. Remember that changes to your constitution only take effect when they are registered and accepted by the Registrar of Incorporated Societies (or Friendly Societies).  It also helps if you always submit your full constitution to the societies office, rather than just the changes.

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