Knowing exactly who your members are, and how to contact them, is essential to a healthy corporation. This issue of the Oracle is a reminder that records of membership—and members themselves—are vital to your operation.
Registers of membership
Corporations need to keep two types of member registers: a register of members and a register of former members. They can be separate or combined in one document.
If your membership is small, your register might be handwritten in a book. For larger memberships, registers are best maintained on a spreadsheet or in a database. You might want to use our template for a register (28kb .xls) See also the fact sheet Registers of members and former members.
Register vs list—what’s the difference?
A register of members is a living document, kept by the corporation. The corporation must update the register within 14 days whenever a new member joins or an existing membership ceases.
A list of members on the ORIC website is a copy of the register of members at one moment in time. Each year, as part of their general report, corporations lodge a list of current members. It’s a snapshot from the time the general report was lodged. Some corporations only provide this list once a year, but you can lodge an update to your list at any time. Lists of members are published on oric.gov.au among each corporation’s records.
Who’s a member?
To be sure of the current membership of a corporation, you need to inspect its register of members.
It’s the corporation’s responsibility to maintain the registers of members and former members. And it’s the corporation who must provide a copy of the register of members to anyone who asks—including the Registrar.
Keeping the registers up-to-date
It’s vital that the registers are up-to-date, because they can be used as legal evidence of who is and isn’t a member.
It’s a member’s responsibility to let their corporation know if ever their information in the register is incorrect or when their details change. If your contact details are wrong, you might miss out on communications and opportunities to participate.
At each annual general meeting, corporations must also provide an opportunity for members to check the register of members and if needed, update their name, address and any other details. So it’s a good idea, as the first step in preparing your AGM, to ensure your register of members has been updated with all the changes your members have told you about.
Ins and outs
Membership of native title bodies
No one automatically becomes a member of a corporation. To become a member, you must apply in writing. It is no different for registered native title bodies corporate (RNTBCs, also known as PBCs). If a person is a native title holder (also called a common law holder) and wants to become a member of an RNTBC, the person must apply in writing.
If your corporation’s rule book does not include a membership application form, you might use our template application form (26kb .doc). It includes a section at the bottom for directors to record all the tasks in the application process.
Directors make the decision on whether applications are approved or denied. The ORIC website has example letters for notifying an applicant about the directors’ decision. (See the letters for accepting and declining membership—both are Word documents.)
Remember, the membership application form is an important record that the corporation should keep as evidence of its good governance.
When a person’s membership stops, the corporation must update the register of members and register of former members within 14 days. Memberships officially cease on the date the entry is made in the register of former members.
The reasons for ending a membership may be the member:
- passes away
- writes to the corporation to say they resign
- has their membership cancelled by members passing a special resolution—only in cases where the member is not contactable for two years, is not Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander or misbehaves
- has their membership cancelled by the directors—only in cases of ineligibility, not paying membership fees (if applicable), or due to another rule in the corporation’s rule book.
For more information on membership rules and processes, including cancellations, see the fact sheet Becoming a corporation member.
When your register of members is up-to-date, you can reach your whole membership to notify them of upcoming meetings and any other matters that may be important to them. Many corporations produce a newsletter for members and other interested parties to stay in touch. Some use their website or social media channels to share information.
Clearly, some members need to hear the news through the post or in person, so the corporation needs to have a communication strategy that works for everyone. However you do it, keeping your members well-informed is important both for their satisfaction and to ensure the smooth operation of the corporation.
Far West Coast Aboriginal Corporation
Far West Coast Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC (FWCAC) has 1669 members who represent the community of native title holders for the far west coast of South Australia.
The corporation is diligent in keeping its membership list up-to-date. They use an efficient database. To ensure notices are received, FWCAC urges members to advise it of any updates to their email or postal address—by phone, visiting the office in person, or using a secure form on the FWCAC website. In 2017, FWCAC submitted no fewer than five updates to its members list to ORIC.
Above: the FWCAC Board. Front row, left to right: Brian Queama, Georgina Stockfisch, Peter Miller, Sue Haseldine, Keith Peters. Middle: Wayne Haseldine, Gavin Peel, April Lawrie, Maryanne Clements. Back: Edward Roberts, Duane Edwards, Barry ‘Jack’ Johncock.
Your corporation belongs to its members. They own it. So you absolutely need to know who and where those people are.
FWCAC also takes great care in its communications with current and prospective members. The corporation’s website has a membership page, where it lists all membership-related rules and provides a downloadable form for prospective members to apply to join.
Like all well-governed corporations, FWCAC strives to maximise its value to members, offering a range of accessible programs and services.
In 2015 FWCAC introduced a membership card, so that each member could identify themselves as a common law holder of native title. The cards include the person’s name and the following statement:
I have native title rights and interests to use and enjoy these lands and waters in accordance with my traditional laws and customs. My right to practice my culture is protected by Section 211 of the Native Title Act 1993.
The purpose of the cards is not to verify membership at corporation meetings. Rather, their purpose is to give some extra assurance to members that they have, and always will have, the right to use and enjoy their traditional lands. The FWCAC board of directors state:
Having the card is a confidence boost for our members when they’re on country. It validates what they already have as common law holders of native title, which is a right to use and enjoy their ancestral lands and waters. The membership card brings pride and reinforces our cultural identity.
The cards affirm and strengthen traditional ownership. They add value to membership of the corporation and—because members are its foundation—they strengthen the corporation itself.
Avoiding common pitfalls
Corporations that fail to manage their memberships well leave themselves vulnerable to all kinds of trouble and disputes about who is a member and has rights to participate in corporation business. Here are some of the risks, each of which comes with an easy mitigation.