I learnt early that we had an authority in our constitution. The constitution was our law; a framework for what was possible and what was not possible. We were obliged to follow, or, if the constitution were inadequate, we needed to change it before we could act.
When I became President of Soroptimist International of the South West Pacific, a wise and experienced Soroptimist, a past President, advised me to read the constitution every night. It was good advice.
The constitution took precedence over bye-laws or manuals. It was the final word.
Luckily it was a small publication. I referred to it often. And doing so saved us going in directions we had no authority to do so. It saved us time and embarrassment. It saved us being challenged. It increased trust around the Board table.
If the constitution no longer served our purpose, the values or mission of the organisation, then we could change it. In our federation changes to the constitution had to be agreed to by the member clubs. The biggest change we made was to the composition of the Federation Board in 2012. Bringing a request for change to 137 voting delegates was one of the more brave things I did. We needed club’s approval to bring change – and to get it passed I knew we had to earn the trust of the voters.
We needed to improve the workings of the Federation Board because we could not hold electronic meetings. A quorum was often not possible because of uneven access to the internet by the Directors. That left an annual face-to-face meeting or doing our business by postal ballot, without discussion.
The changes were passed after much debate – there were as many opinions in the room as there were delegates. The recommendation included the clause that the changes be reviewed in two years – which gave the opportunity to change the constitution again if our proposal did not benefit the organisation as we claimed it would. I think that additional clause enabled voters to pass the recommendation.
Seven years on there is now discussion again on how to improve the Board structure. A constitution can move with the times and needs of the organisation to ensure its authority is relevant.
My mantra, whenever the Board had to make a decision, was, “By what authority do we act?” It was a helpful mantra to me.