As any parent knows, without rules, things can get out of hand really quickly. Robert’s Rules of Order sets out guidelines for behavior—called parliamentary procedure—for organizations that discuss and decide issues as a group. It’s a way to make sure the rights of everyone in the group are accounted for and to run meetings fairly and efficiently.

Written in 1876 by Major Henry M. Robert, it is used by the United Nations and the U.S. Congress, among others. The full version is more than 800 pages long; thankfully, parent group business is much simpler! You only need to know a few basic concepts to start using Robert’s Rules in your PTO meetings.

1. Bylaws

Your bylaws are a kind of blueprint for how your parent group is structured. This document spells out your group’s purpose, how it is organized, and the rules that govern how your group is run. The bylaws should also include the process for revising that document (this is called “amending the bylaws”); it’s good practice to review your bylaws each year so amendments can be made as needed. If your group needs to create bylaws, you can view sample bylaws in the File Exchange.

2. Quorum

A quorum is the minimum number of members that must be present at a meeting so that issues can be discussed and decisions made. This number is defined in the bylaws, and it should be low enough so that parent group business doesn’t get stalled from month to month. You can set the quorum to whatever works for your group; we suggest no fewer than five people, if possible.

3. Motions

Sometimes discussions go in so many different directions that it’s hard to tell what decision the group should be focusing on. That’s why it helps to make motions, which are recorded in the meeting minutes. For any topic to be discussed or voted on at a meeting, a member must make a motion to the group (“I move that...”), and then another member must support that motion (“Seconded”). Motions are used to resolve disputes and discuss open issues. Motions can also be set aside until the next meeting (the motion gets “tabled”) if the group needs more time or more information before voting.

4. Voting

When a motion is voted on, it passes if the number of attending members who support it is more than the number of attending members who don’t. Members who are at the meeting but abstain from voting are left out of the tally.

Here’s an example in real terms: A group has 10 members at a meeting; the quorum is set to eight, so there are enough attendees to conduct business. On one particular motion, five people vote in favor, two are against, and three abstain. This motion passes 5 to 2.

Almost all parent group business will require only a simple majority (50 percent plus 1). One exception is amending the bylaws, which requires support from a two-thirds majority of those voting.

5. Adjournment

The formal way to end a meeting is by a motion to adjourn. Like all motions, this one must be seconded, then the rest of the members present agree by voice vote. The secretary should record the time of adjournment in the minutes.

More on Meetings/Robert's Rules

Robert's Rules Tip Sheet

PTO Meeting Conversation-Starters