News: Returnee, donor, friend, member or all of the above?

Some loyal Palms’ supporters were surprised to discover recently that they were ineligible to vote at our AGM. Maybe the reasons for the formal process of signing on as a member have not been adequately explained. I hope I can clarify a little and those so inclined are able to complete the required formal application and participate fully next time.

Membership has many connotations. We become members of families and communities through birth and, as a dependent, there is little choice. Even as one matures there are limitations on choosing membership of a family or community, but hopefully both provide positive emotional and mutually beneficial relationships.

Many returned volunteers and other supporters would rightly see themselves as a member of the “Palms family” because of a sense of shared mission. This might also be achieved by joining a club, although many clubs that come to mind are more like large “for-profit-at-any-price” business corporations with ‘customers’ rather than members.

There is another style of membership again, which is membership of a company. In 2001, the constitution of the old Paulian Association Ltd was changed, among other things, to allow those interested to join as members under the new name of Palms Australia. Palms Australia is a company as defined by the Corporations Law, which is overseen by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission.

Being a company gives legal protection under the law to the members, such as limited liability for any debts of the company. Our constitution explains this in section 10:

“Every Member undertakes to contribute to the property of the Company in the event of the same being wound up while he is a Member or within one (1) year after he ceases to be a Member for payment of the debts and liabilities of the Company (contracted before he ceases to be a Member) and of the costs charges and expenses of winding up and for the adjustment of the rights of the contributories among themselves such amount as may be required not exceeding one hundred dollars ($100.00).”

Membership comes, then, with responsibilities, balanced by rights (e.g. to participate in the election of Directors). There are costs in running the company, such as submitting ASIC reports, managing meetings of directors and servicing the members with information that allows full participation. So all who apply for membership are asked to make a “Membership Donation” to help meet these costs.

Members are responsible for setting a membership fee but the last time this was moved at an AGM, the meeting decided that it should be by donation so that no one should be prevented from being a member. Those who can afford to donate more subsidise those who want to exercise the rights and responsibilities of a member but feel they cannot pay at all. This works as long as enough people do contribute to the costs of managing the company.

The membership donation is very different to that which supporters provide to mobilise volunteers. Unless a donation is clearly specified as part of an application for, or renewal of membership, it is used to help us recruit, prepare and send volunteers to communities seeking poverty reduction.

If you do wish to participate as a member please complete the formal application enclosed and any accompanying contribution will be used to service your needs as a member of the company.

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There is both a moral and social responsibility attaching to these experiences of foreign cultures,
and if nothing awakens in our own soul, making claims and demands upon us,
calling us to change the way we live, then we have been merely parasites and invaders. - David Tacey