How many is enough?: questioning quorums

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.

One thought on “How many is enough?: questioning quorums

  1. I’ve just been working with a group who debated this quite heavily; we settled on 5% of the membership. Some felt it was too low, and could lead to a small group taking control or changing certain rules, but they were persuaded that more legitimate fear was not having enough people to do basic stuff like agree accounts.

    Most rules I’ve seen have provisions that an inquorate meeting is reconvened, and that however many turn up at that reconvened meeting are a quorum, which enables various bits of the governance to be transacted. I’ve also helped put in place rules in some which say that major business needs to be agreed by two consecutive general meetings, so if 20 people turn up and rejig things against the broader membership’s interest, they have to do it again, when the normally apathetic can be roused in extremis.

    The bigger issue is thinking beyond meetings and quorums and bringing new governance to co-ops though; co-ops often struggle to get people to meetings because they’re quite awful events which no sane person would wish to go to, and if the main reason the Board give as to why people should come is a word in latin explaining a concept in the constitution, it’ll demotivate even more.


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