Why must non-profits keep minutes of their meetings?
First, good meeting minutes are crucial to the health of an organization: without them, the framework for overall success may be shaky. Understanding the importance of record-keeping can lay the foundation for a more structured process.
Second, it’s the law: Section 92 of Ontario’s Not-For-Profit Corporations Act, 2010, dictates that all non-profits keep records – including meeting minutes — of the official business of its members, committees, and directors.
Minutes can help a non-profit develop a roadmap for its goals by documenting what has happened, what should happen and who oversees and executes each task. Without such records, decisions and responsibilities can be vague and undetermined.
Good minutes contribute to the credibility of an organization. They signal to stakeholders such as donors and clients that the enterprise is accountable and transparent.
We often receive questions about the process of minute taking within a non-profit, such as: Who should take them and how often? Where should they be kept? The short answer is that minutes are necessary for board and shareholder meetings; the notes need to be consistent, saved and readily available.
The responsibility can weigh heavily on the person tasked with minute taking, particularly if he/she is not trained. The job can also be difficult to centralize at an organization where roles are transient.
Minute taking is a bit of science and a bit of an art. What doesn’t go into a good set of minutes is often as important as what does. Minutes should concisely summarize the main points, decisions, and tasks – including dates and timelines – in a detached and unbiased tone, without getting bogged down in excessive detail or a blow-by-blow account of every discussion.
The notes also need to stand the test of time. Not only must they be understood by those who attended the meeting — more detached readers also need to be able to follow along, whether the minutes are read today, next week, or several months or years down the line. A common issue we encounter is that not all individuals mentioned in minutes are identified. The meeting participants may refer to someone who is not present – “Mary-Anne”, for example; while everyone around the table may know who that is, someone reading the minutes three years later or who is not closely tied to the organization may not. It is therefore necessary to identify every person the first time they appear in a set of minutes by explaining their relationship to the organization.
Compliance with provincial law does not end at drafting and approving the minutes: they need to be stored safely in an organized fashion so that they are easily accessible, even years later.
Whether meeting notes are taken internally or by an external third party, it is important that minutes follow the same formula from set to set for consistency. When employing a third-party minute taker, the organization must do its due diligence to ensure the recording secretary is trained, knowledgeable about the relevant legislation, and has the organization’s best interests in mind.
Professional and properly stored minutes reflect well on a non-profit: they help keep it humming, build the confidence of stakeholders, and contribute to its overall success.