Here’s the question: how many members need to be present at a cooperative’s general meeting for it to be quorate?
I’ve been looking at a number of sets of rules adopted by cooperatives recently, and I’m concerned that there isn’t always enough care taken when fixing the size of the legal quorum for general meetings. Too often, I think, quorums can be set too high, a reflection perhaps of the optimism which tends to be around when rules are first adopted.
It depends, of course, what sort of coop we’re talking about but the larger the potential membership, the more care needs to be taken not to put in place an unrealistically high quorum. There’s nothing more demoralising for a coop than an inquorate meeting which can’t proceed to discuss the notified business: those members who have bothered to turn out can feel they have wasted their time, and a downward spiral of ever-smaller meetings can result.
Of course, we all want cooperatives to be organisations where every member is fully engaged and committed. But setting a low quorum when you set the rules isn’t an admission in advance of defeat. The quorum isn’t the number of members you’d want ideally to show up or even the numbers you think you’d get for an evening meeting when the weather is poor and there’s a good programme on television. It’s simply there as an emergency measure to prevent, in extremis, a tiny handful of members being able to take legally binding decisions. Only in exceptional circumstances should meetings ever be inquorate.
So I think I’d suggest that the community coop’s rulebook that I’ve got here which says “a quorum shall be three members or 20% of the membership, whichever is the greater” is probably setting the bar too high. I fear that they could find in the future that their members’ meetings could – unnecessarily – be inquorate. 200 members, 39 show up, meeting can’t progress.
But let’s also not be foolish. Another set of rules I have here says “Before any general meeting can start its business there must be a quorum present; a quorum is two members”. That’s going the other way.