Monday, October 25, 2021

How to make sure your choir constitution is fit for purpose

Many choirs have a written constitution and an associated committee.

This is fine when everything is going well, but when something goes wrong, you might find that your constitution is not fit for purpose. Here are some things to think about when you write one for your choir.

First off, does your choir actually need a constitution? It’s not 100% necessary, but many choirs have one because it helps to spread ownership and responsibility amongst all choir members (especially when money is involved).

Often, when a choir first starts, there is not a great deal of thought put into the writing of a constitution. It might even be seen as a necessary evil in order to open a Clubs and Societies bank account.

Many times new choirs simply take an existing constitution from another organisation and adapt it to their own purposes. One choir I used to lead had adapted the constitution of a local playgroup!

In the early days the focus is on the singing and making sure there’s a way to keep the choir’s money safe. Not a lot of attention is paid to the finer details. After all, you’re all friends and keen singers, what can possibly go wrong?

As time passes however, problems can arise.

You might find you end up with a hostile committee who are more interested in power struggles than singing. Or there may be one individual committee member who is a real pain. Or you might want to change the way the choir runs, but your constitution doesn’t allow for this. Or what happens to any money if you want to wind the choir up?

I’ve written before about choir committees, how they can be a wonderful help, but also how they can go seriously wrong: Choir committees and how to handle them.

When a choir first starts, when all is sweetness and light and goodwill, it may not occur to you that things might go wrong.

To get you started, you can ask other choirs if they’re willing to share their constitution with you. You can then adapt it to your own needs.

Here are some important checks and balances which you should make sure are in your constitution to avoid problems in the future.

  • define a ‘choir member’ and what voting rights they have – members are usually defined as singers who have paid the appropriate subs. What rights does paying subs give them? When do they stop being a member?
  • make sure you have sensible quora for committee meetings and AGMs – a quorum is the minimum number of people required to have a meeting, either a committee meeting or an Annual General Meeting of the choir. It’s usually expressed as a percentage of the membership. This is to make sure that a small number of people can’t represent the whole choir or committee.
  • what if a choir member wants to vote, but is unable to attend in person? – a choir member may be ill, or unable to attend an AGM, but still want to vote. Will you allow postal votes or email votes? How will this be set up fairly? This is especially important when big decisions need to be made and you want as many views as possible.
  • only allow committee members to stay on for a limited time – you want to ensure that every choir member has the opportunity to step up and help the choir. You don’t really want committee members for life, especially if they’re not doing a good job! A good idea is to allow committee members to stay on for one year, with the option of being voted on again for a further year. No more than that. Then they have to step down for a while before being eligible again.
  • make sure you can get rid of plonkers from your committee – sometimes a lovely person turns into a monster when they become a committee member. Or they may simply not be a team player and end up being very disruptive. Maybe put in a clause that allows a majority of committee members or choir members to vote off someone who is seen to be a problem. This can also apply to committee members who aren’t pulling their weight or who don’t turn up for meetings.
  • have a way of disbanding the entire committee – if the majority of the choir don’t have confidence in them,they need to go. Hard to believe, but sometimes choir committees become a hotbed of inane squabbles and power struggles and stop being anything to do with singing! If that happens, you need to have a mechanism for wiping the slate clean.
  • have a way to call a General Meeting if an emergency arises – if something goes seriously wrong in your choir (a musical director resigns, the committee are misbehaving, some singers are being disruptive), you don’t want to wait up to a year for the next AGM. Build in a mechanism where a sufficient number of choir members can call an Emergency General Meeting.
  • allow for changes to the constitution – over time things will change in your choir and you may want to adjust your constitution to reflect that. There should be a clause that allows for changes to be made at an AGM if a majority of the choir members vote for it.
  • include a method by which the choir can disband – sometimes a choir has just run its course, or a musical director leaves and cannot be replaced, or singer numbers drop too low. In these cases you need to have a way to end the choir properly.
  • make provisions for any choir money left if the choir dissolves – if your choir does come to an end one day, there should be mention of what happens to any remaining choir funds. Often a clause is added to say they will be donated to a local charity.
  • what is the relationship between choir leader and committee? – some constitutions have a specific clause to say that the musical director will have the right to attend all committee meetings, except those parts of a meeting which may be for committee members only. After all, the choir leader and committee are supposed to be working together for the good of the choir. This relationship can go sour though, and the committee or choir leader can overstep their area of responsibility. See Whose choir is it any way?
  • keep it simple! – there may be a lot to fit in to a written constitution, but that doesn’t mean it has to be long or written in legalese. When I used to lead Woven Chords, the original constitution was five pages long and 2,500 words. It was also hard to understand and not fit for purpose. We drafted a much better version which was easier to understand, three pages long and only 1,000 words.

There are many other items that need to go into a basic constitution, but it’s important not to miss out those I’ve listed above. If you get it right the first time, you will avoid trouble further down the line.

It’s important to make sure that your constitution is accessible to all choir members. Your website would be a good place to put it.

Do let me know if you think I’ve missed anything important out.


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Chris Rowbury




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