Members, Who Are They and Why Do We Need Them

Law For Non-Profits is a simple and low-barrier digital platform. It’s designed to help non-profit leaders understand their legal obligations. This tool was created for non-profits working in BC, however, many of the concepts are general in nature and may apply in other provinces Canada that have similar laws. Read more about using these resources from other regions of Canada here.

Members, Who Are They and Why Do We Need Them?
Members are an integral part of any non-profit society. They can also be your worst nightmare when disputes arise. It’s important for every society to ask and occasionally revisit some key questions to maintain a healthy organization and membership. How many members is enough? What might you expect of a member and they from you? And how will you manage those expectations?

Here are a few of the key issues covered in a 2021 conversation between PLEO Legal Director Martha Rans, K.C. and Columbia College Executive Director Mark Friesen, the recording of which has become one of our most popular webinars. You can listen to the full webinar, including a Q & A on membership strategy, at the link at the bottom of this article.

Members Can Help Ensure Accountability
The attention of an active and engaged membership can help a society stay true to its mission and a healthily attended AGM can ensure that your audited financial statements are given more than a perfunctory glance before they are passed. The members can - and will - ask questions of key staff and board members. This deliberative process provides  transparency which is a great thing for any non-profit.

The Pro’s and Con’s of Automatic Membership
Some non-profits make every donor a member as a “benefit.”  While you may want to build a donor community is this really the way to build community?  Create activities  that interested members can be involved in or benefit from without necessarily making them members.

More Members - More Opinions
In large all volunteer non-profits such as those in sports where all the players are members can lead to conflict over rules of play as much as who should be a director.  Having a robust code of conduct policy that is signed by all members is a good place to start.

Fewer Members Can Be A Positive
Openness and access are great things for a community and society-at-large but a wide, general membership may not be the best option for every non-profit society. Depending on your society’s purpose, a small, dedicated membership made up of people with in-depth knowledge of your mission and areas of endeavor may be all you need. It’s also important to remember, that making everyone a member isn’t the only - or even the best - way to engage a community.

Be Aware - Members Access to the Membership Register
Under the Societies Act, members may request the full membership contact registry at any time. This has the potential to not only lead to time-consuming administration and can compromise privacy. If your society has vulnerable or at-risk members that you wish to protect, it may require extensive legal resources to block the registry from being shared.


Listen to the full webinar


Want to learn more about membership strategies? We recommend using our Societies Act Legal Help Guide on Membership. It’s just one of our many free legal resources available at Law For Non-Profits.