Modernising your Constitution

23 August 2017

Over the last century, the majority of clubs were formed around a core purpose/function - supporting returned servicemen; supporting local workers or supporting and promoting various sports.

The sad reality is that more than a few clubs have large numbers of members who are no longer actively involved in those core activities, rather they gather at our clubs to celebrate, reflect, dine, dance and drink everything from coffee to cola and back again.

Some of our clubs struggle as a result of issues like population drift (especially from rural communities to the cities), the resultant shrinking of the talent pool, the challenge of engaging with Millennials in our digitally connected world and also changing legislation directing how our clubs operate and are governed.

A common issue for many clubs, especially rural-based, is the longevity of the committee and the lack of simple recruitment and selection policies and procedures that are part of a strong succession planning system.

Clubs need a strong focus on building committees with greater diversity.  Hand in hand with the diversity focus is a parallel focus on improved succession planning, allowing clubs to build a consistent pipeline of appropriately skilled executive, with diverse backgrounds waiting to fill committee positions.

Many club constitutions create hurdles to this necessary succession planning with requirements such as;

  • minimum period of membership before one can nominate for the committee
  • association with specific bodies (ex-servicemen, golfer, bowler etc.) to be on the committee
  • no tenure or maximum term of service on the committee necessitating retirement.

When the club constitutions were drafted, these conditions made a lot of sense.  There are many clubs for whom these conditions ensured ongoing, successful operations with committee's drawn from their members meeting all the requisite criteria.  Yet for every successful club with these requirements, there are probably three or four for whom the same conditions create barriers to success.  In the 21st century, many of these historic parameters have become constraints to broadening the talent pool for club committees.  In 2017, clubs need to review their constitutions to ensure that it actively promotes the ability to source a broad thinking pool of committee members.

Clubs need to consider - are your constitutional requirements helping or hindering?  When did your club last review its constitution?

Clubs New Zealand advocates that clubs should review and update their constitutions whenever significant legislative change occurs.  Sadly, some clubs still haven't reviewed or refreshed their constitution since it was written, while others review theirs annually, which is probably too frequent.  So let's review how we can ensure your constitution is fit-for-purpose and why it's necessary.

What is a constitution?

A club's constitution is the set of rules that the club should operate under and provides guidance to the committee for how the club should be governed.

It is important to note that your club constitution is subordinate to any legislation governing the operation of clubs, it it makes sense to align your constitution to all appropriate legislation, to ensure compliance by your own club rules to the legislation.  Your constitution can, however, set additional requirements that suit the needs of the club.  The constitution identifies what the organisation is going to do (core function) and how it is going to do it (everything from membership categories to board elections and beyond).  It will spell out, through codes of conduct and disciplinary processes, the standards of behaviour and mode of operation of the organisation, so everyone has a reference point of what is expected.

A well-constructed constitution will enhance the organisation's ability to operate effectively, confidently fulfilling its roles in support of the core function (whatever that may be) while satisfying the needs of the broader community.

What does a modern constitution look like?

A modern constitution should meet all legal requirements by setting parameters - how the club will trade, who can be a member, definitions of membership categories, what benefits a member can receive, who can be a committee member, how they can be elected or appointed, committee structure and so on.

Why do we need modern constitutions?

A contemporary constitution is the best way to ensure the core function of the club into the long-term function, while adding some certainty into the succession planning process to provide a sound pipeline full of appropriately skilled committee members, ready to take up the mantle of club governance.

(SOURCE: Ron Browne, ClubNSW Manager, Professional Development, The Club Directors Institute Magazine, July 2017)

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