It’s Friday night and your executive director calls you and quits. Life happens, right? But what now? How do you have a special meeting – a meeting between normally scheduled meetings – to triage? Parliamentary procedure, of course, doesn’t allow for it to happen willy-nilly.

Step 1: Check State Law and Your Group’s Bylaws

To hold a special meeting, the laws of the state where your organization is incorporated, or your bylaws, must say that you can. Check the state laws that apply to your group and find the section on meetings. If there’s a subsection on special meetings and how to have them, you’re good to go. If not, check your bylaws. Once again, if they have a section that provides for special meetings, you’re free to move forward. If not, you’ll have to sit tight and wait for the next regular meeting to come around.

Step 2: Publicize the Details

  • Who calls the meeting Usually, the “call to meeting” must be issued by a specific officer (often the president) and sometimes requires the approval of the board. Some organizations allow a set number of members to submit a written request that requires the president to call a special meeting.
  • When the meeting is called A special meeting must be called a specified number of days in advance. Unless state law or your bylaws say otherwise, count all calendar days – holidays and weekends, too – excluding the day of the meeting but including the day you send the notice.
  • The time, date, location, and purpose of the meeting The “call to meeting” needs to include all the necessary details, obviously – time, date, and location. But you must also say generally what topics will be discussed, including a clear indication of what’s open for discussion and what’s not (see #3 below). You don’t have to state the precise motions that will be made.
  • How the meeting is called This one is simple: You have to notify everyone. No keeping it a secret from folks you wish would stay home. Check the laws again on this, and follow what they say about how to send the notification: snail mail (paid for by the group) or email. But use caution, and avoid any method that allows for accusations that you failed to give proper notice.

Step 3: Stay on Topic during the Meeting

Let’s be clear – only the topics in the “call to meeting” are open for discussion at that special meeting. This means that if you told people you were only going to talk about renovations for headquarters, you shouldn’t also talk about selecting a new executive director. The reason? Protection of absentees.

I’ll tell you right now – half of your group will read the meeting notice stating renovations as the topic and think, “No way am I wasting my Thursday night on that.” But, if the notice says you’re going to talk about the sudden need for an executive director, they’ll be there! Stick to the topic on the notice. You don’t want anyone to feel left out.

Step 4: Keep Good Records

Finally, don’t forget to take minutes at any special meeting. Absentees will undoubtedly be interested in the actions taken. (Don’t worry about approving the minutes at a special meeting, though. You can wait until the next regular meeting for that.)