Why does a grass roots, volunteer organization like HSC not have a voting membership?
The main reason HSC does not have voting members is that it is a grass roots, volunteer organization. Sounds a bit counterintuitive, doesn't it? But think about it: Our work is done by volunteers on time and energy they can steal from their everyday lives, from their spouses and kids and homeschooling and work and friends and community. That time and energy is limited, and most volunteers prefer to devote it to substantive work--newsletter articles, conferences, publications, planning campouts and other events--rather than to procedural matters.
Once upon a time, HSC (and its earlier incarnation, NCHA) had voting members. What did the members vote on? They voted each year for directors, who may or may not have had any actual working knowledge of the organization and who may or may not have been known to the people voting for them. They also voted on certain issues which, according to our bylaws, required a member vote--essentially changes in the bylaws such as the number of directors, the name of the organization, and whether to have voting members. Our bylaws required a quorum of 10% for any and all votes, and in most of those years we spent a great deal of time drumming up that quorum so that we could even continue to function.
Most of our members are not interested in the details of how HSC is run. Even during the year or two when we were wracked by internal disputes, the most controversial votes could still generate barely a 20% response from our members and the substantive work (that which actually had something to do with homeschooling) virtually ceased. Most of our members simply want the services we provide: an interesting and useful newsletter and other publications, current information on the homeschooling climate in California, a county contact network, and occasional gatherings and events like campouts and conferences.
But doesn't this mean that members have no say in what HSC does? Of course not. Those of us on the board and all the other volunteers like and need to hear from members about how we are doing and what other things we should be trying. Even more, we love to recruit members who are willing to devote a little of their own time and energy to making HSC work. We constantly ask for help: articles for California HomeSchooler, county contacts, workshop presenters, conference volunteers, board nominating committee, new board members, and more. Our members who volunteer are our organization; without their time and energy there is no HSC.
Think of it this way: Your dues entitle you to the services HSC offers. If you want a say in how the organization is run, you have to donate a little time and energy to make it run.
If you'd like to get involved, just call, write, or email to tell us so! We've got lots of work to share and we'll be glad to have your help and ideas.
Voting or Nonvoting Membership?
A nonprofit corporation may be organized with a voting or a nonvoting membership. If it chooses to have a voting membership, then those members will have statutory rights under state law and can, for example, vote directors on or off the board, change the articles of incorporation and the bylaws of the organization, vote to merge with another organization, or even dissolve the organization.
In practice, a voting membership can be burdensome and expensive for a small nonprofit because it requires the effort and expense of convening and giving notice of meetings and elections which very often do not even achieve the required quorum.
When an organization is geographically spread out and many members are not active, voting membership corporations are at risk from small special-interest groups who may attempt to take over the organization. If the requirements for membership are relatively low and many members are relatively apathetic, it is possible for very small factions within the membership to find supporters to sign up as members so that they can vote themselves into office. This was the situation that arose at the Sierra Club when an anti-immigration group asked its supporters to send in the $25 dues to the Sierra Club in order to be able to vote at the club's annual meeting. The attempted Sierra Club takeover was eventually fought off, but this situation happens regularly to nonprofit organizations (read more about the hostile take-over bid at the Sierra Club). A smaller organization will often not have the funds or manpower to avoid being taken over by a group with their own agenda.
For the above reasons, most charitable organizations are run by self-perpetuating boards who vote for their own replacements. This does not mean that members are uninvolved in the running of the organization or have no rights or responsibilities, but that those are determined by the board and do not typically include voting rights.
HSC began as a voting membership organization when it was small and most members knew each other. However, it was changed to a nonvoting membership because of the problems described above. The HSC board, however, is highly committed to inclusivity. Members are invited to attend most board meetings, for example, and information other than personnel matters or that of a very personal nature is made available to members, including financial information.