It takes more than a claim, no matter how often repeated, to actually become a professional organization. This includes writers’ groups. Some of the indicators of a professional organization are listed below.
- A professional organization should have a legal framework including a constitution. In Australia this generally means being an incorporated body. Many speculative fiction clubs are incorporated even though they’re only fan-based groups without any intention of becoming a professional body because incorporation provides a legal framework including collective member ownership of the organization, accountability, processes and a degree of legal protection for committee members. When I researched incorporated bodies a few years ago in Melbourne, I discovered that individual committee members can be legally liable for an organization if it’s not incorporated; incorporation provides a degree of protection for those same committee members as well as mandating certain processes and holding people accountable.
- A professional organization abides by all legislation in its country of origin including human rights; this means not discriminating or excluding people on the basis of race, religion, gender or disability.
- A professional organization will have indemnity insurance and public liability insurance. My understanding of the legislation in Victoria is that, without insurance, committee members can be held personally liable unless the organization is incorporated and can possibly be held liable even with incorporation but without insurance. I haven’t reviewed the legislation in other states or territories in Australia.
- Upon accepting new members, the new members should receive a welcome pack including a copy of the constitution. If a member requests a copy of the constitution at a later date, a copy should be provided promptly and without retaliation.
- Committee meetings should generally be open to members as a means of strengthening the organization and encouraging participation, leading to volunteering and mentoring of future committee members. This ensures that, when current committee members step down, their replacements are prepared to fill their shoes.
- Committee meetings are never held over dinner; a communal dinner is a social event.
- Committee meetings are either open to all members or committee members only; if closed to members not on the committee, this is unilateral and never a means of showing favoritism. “You can come because you’re my good friend but we won’t let anyone else come” is unprofessional, possible basis for accusations of nepotism (are you grooming your chosen heir or ally on a future committee?) and is potentially discriminatory.
- The organization should have a secretary responsible for answering correspondence and should do so promptly. The secretary should never refuse to provide a copy of the constitution and should never ignore correspondence that is not spam. If the secretary feels unable to respond to correspondence, the committee should assign a replacement secretary, vice-secretary or assistant to ensure all correspondence is read and dealt with promptly.
- A professional organization will have a process established within the rules that sets out how and why membership can be rescinded including disclosure of intent to rescind membership, the reasons why, correspondence and/or discussion with the member/s to be removed from the roll and a course of appeal.