What Membership Eligibility Requirements Can a Club Have?

Apr 24

Many Toastmasters clubs are wide open to anyone who is 18 or older, can pay dues and is voted into the club.

When a club is listed as “membership eligibility required,” it’s typically because the club is for a specific group of people: employees of a company, members of the military at a base, students or faculty or employees of a university, that kind of thing.

Advanced clubs must restrict membership to dual members and/or members who have attained a specific education designation.

But… what else is there?

When I first started my Toastmasters journey, I heard that some clubs limited members to various special interests not listed above, or even required members to pass an interview, some test of speaking skills, before accepting them as members.

Then I heard that was wrong; clubs can’t make up random criteria like that. But I was still too new to think of getting it straight from the source.

Now the topic came up again and I decided to get an official verdict. Here’s what Toastmasters International had to say in an email dated April 24, 2014, 6:06 p.m. CST.

Dear Toastmaster Schultz,

Thank you for taking the time to email us and your kind patience during this busy time. I am happy to assist you today!

The knowledge on policy you have provided is mostly accurate, as Toastmasters International is very clear about not being able to restrict membership because of age (except those persons under 18 years of age), race, color, creed, gender, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, or physical or mental disability, so long as the individual, through his or her own effort, is able to participate in the program. However, the addendum of standard club options (hereafter referred to as the “Addendum”) under the constitution may provide for other restrictions on the composition of the individual membership, e.g., to the employees of a particular company or agency, residents of a specific community, or people sharing a special interest. This information can be found here: Club Constitution/Article ll: Membership, http://www.toastmasters.org/NonNavigableDocs/PolicyProtocolPDF.aspx#page=109

Question 1: are clubs allowed to require members to audition and then decide whether or not to allow them into the club based on perceived speaking skill?
Auditioning and speaking skill are not violations of the policy aforementioned, therefore if a club has voted to include these requirements, in accordance with the addendum of standard club options, then they may do so.
Question 2: other than the potential membership eligibility requirements I listed above, what, if any, are the ways clubs may choose to restrict membership?
The club may vote to establish additional membership requirements for their club, which as long as the requirements do not violate the policy above, they would be allowed. The examples provided are just some of the most common requirements that clubs have instituted, but are not inclusive to all of the requirements that can be applied.
I hope the information provided will assist you with any concern you had and in answering your query, but if we can be of further service, please do not hesitate to contact us.

The policy is fairly liberal. There are only a few things you may NOT restrict membership to, the protected classes mentioned above and listed in TI documents. Note that this doesn’t mean a club culture can’t emphasize one of those protected groups. Witness, for example, the Austin Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Toastmasters Club. Obviously there’s an emphasis on “sexual orientation,” which we cannot discriminate against. However, the club membership is open to all. A club might have a focus on one of those groups—women, expats of Monaco or whatever—and as long as they don’t restrict membership to only that group, it’s all good.

Beyond that, it’s wide open. Want to have a club whose members are restricted to dog owners, Libertarians, pastafarians, people who have car insurance with Geico, people who can solve a Rubik’s cube in under a minute or people who can successfully give deep, moving 5-7 minute speech while blindfolded and hopping on one foot? Go for it.

Of course, whether or not such restrictions are good for your club are another matter entirely. Carefully consider if the benefits of every club member being a part of those restrictions outweighs the cost of limiting your membership and do what is best for your club.

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