Martha’s Rules of Order

Martha’s Rules* as updated for Speculative Fiction Writers Association

Rules 1-7 should be followed during “voting meetings” when decisions about strategy or resource utilization, such as volunteers or funds, are needed. However, for “working meetings” covering established operational activities, only Rule 7 needs to be followed as the facilitation of the meeting will be managed under the purview of the meeting chair.

  1. Every meeting should have an agenda created by the chairperson. Each topic in the agenda should have a title.
  1. When appropriate, details of agenda items should be attached as Exhibits or Notes (A,B,C etc.):
    1. Title
    2. Situation, Background, Assessment, and Recommendation (SBAR)** should be included.
  2. Members may add (i.e. sponsor) items for the agenda with a Title and SBAR by emailing them to the chairperson a few days prior to a meeting.
    1. The item will not be discussed unless the member attends.
  3. The chairperson of the meeting sets the agenda and either emails it with attachments to meeting members or emails a link to a centralized agenda document prior to the meeting.
    1. Discussion time for items is capped at 10 minutes unless otherwise specified.
  4. A common organization of the agenda includes:
    1. Date, time and location
    2. Call to order
    3. Attendance
    4. Approval of the agenda for this meeting
    5. Approval of previous minutes
    6. Reports
    7. Old business
    8. New business
    9. Comments, announcements, and next meeting date and time
    10. Adjournment
  5. Voting during the meeting will use hand signals, indicating the voter’s degree of support for an item:
    1. Thumbs up – likes or supports the item.
    2. Thumbs horizontal – supports the item but is not 100% in favor.
    3. Thumb down – dislikes the item and does not support it.
  6. Sense vote for an item:
    1. If all vote thumbs up, the item is passed
    2. If all vote thumbs down, the item is not passed.
    3. If some vote thumbs horizontal, discussion is guided by the Chairperson, starting with the members who were thumbs horizontal to inquire as to why they don’t support the item 100%.
    4. If the Chair finds that a revision of the proposal is necessary for a higher degree of support, a revision acceptable to the sponsor is advanced to a final vote, or the item is sent back to the sponsor for reworking and presentation later.
  7. Final vote: The chairman states the following: “Should we implement this decision over the stated objections of the minority, when a majority of the group feels it is workable?”
    1. If the majority of attendees votes thumbs up or thumbs horizontal, the item is passed.
    2. For each item passed, the chairperson designates who is responsible for completion and a due date.
  8. Old business and reports usually only require brief discussion and a hand vote for approval.
  9. Adjournment and comments by the Chairperson.
  10. Minutes of meetings should be recorded with minimum detail. Once approved by the committee, the agenda and minutes should be submitted to the Secretary of Speculative Fiction Writers Association for retention and to the President for review.

*Martha’s Rules were proposed in the 1970s by Martha Mitchell (1917-1976) who was a lawyer interested in more democratic meetings. Her Rules stand as an alternative to Robert’s Rules of Order. Although both rules aim to guide how meetings are conducted, Robert’s Rules has grown to almost 800 pages and are most useful for large meetings. Martha’s Rules can be described in a few pages and are intended for small meetings, often resulting in shorter meetings.

**SBAR is a structured method to communicate critical information effectively. It was originally developed for urgent communications in submarines, later adopted by medical professionals and business organizations. It can help to improve communication, decision-making, and overall organizational effectiveness.