ACNC Governance Standard 2 requires a charity to be ‘accountable to members’. A common way for charities to do this is through annual general meetings (AGMs) and other meetings.
Charities are becoming increasingly aware of the potential benefits and opportunities that come with holding meetings remotely, often through the use of technology and communication or meeting platforms.
Remote meetings allow greater flexibility and responsiveness for charities, and can provide Responsible People with opportunities for higher levels of meeting attendance and engagement.
This guidance provides some tips and considerations for charities that are considering holding meetings remotely.
Check that your charity is allowed to stage a remote meeting
Some charities may need to comply with rules that require meetings to be held in person.
These rules may be from the charity’s own governing document or from a state regulator (such as those for incorporated associations) or ASIC (for companies).
Your charity should refer to its governing document and check with any relevant regulator.
Check if your charity can change rules to allow for remote meetings
If your charity’s governing rules do not allow it to hold meeting remotely, it may be worth exploring the process for changing the rules.
This could be as a temporary measure for situations that require it, or as a permanent option if it makes the meeting more accessible for people.
Consult with stakeholders about the proposed remote meeting
Identify your charity’s stakeholders and put the proposal of a remote meeting to them. This will help identify any issues with the proposal and allow you to find solutions or make other arrangements.
Be aware of the deadline for holding the meeting
Meetings – be they in person or remote – are often subject to deadlines. This is particularly true of AGMs.
These may be set by a regulator (such as the state regulator for incorporated associations or ASIC) or by the charity’s governing rules.
Consider the costs involved
Some providers of video conferencing software offer free versions with limited functionality and capabilities. This type of arrangement may be suitable for your charity.
However, it may be that your charity needs to spend money. Similarly, there may be extra technology-related costs that may come with a remote meeting – for example, devices, microphones or webcams.
Providing notice of the meeting
Even a remote meeting requires your charity to provide notice to its members, supporters, stakeholders or whoever is allowed to attend.
The notice should be clear about the format of the meeting, the agenda, and how you will manage certain actions in a remote setting – for example, how votes will be taken, how people can ask questions and speak, and how attendance will be recorded.
Ask people to submit questions in advance
Having questions in advance of the meeting can make the whole meeting easier to manage.
Of course, it is still important to allow questions during the meeting, but it can be helpful to have on hand any questions that can be sent ahead of the meeting.
Select the provider carefully
Take the time to look into the options for a video conferencing provider.
Consider the needs of your charity’s meeting in doing so – for example, does it need video as well as audio? Does everyone need to be able to speak? Does the session need to be recorded?
Many providers have free options as well as paid services, including some discounts for charities.
Offer help and support
In providing notice of the meeting and its format, it is important to provide a way for people to get help and support to join and participate in the meeting.
This may involve having someone on call to help people over the phone, or it might involve using the help and support services from the service provider.
Hold a test meeting
It is important to organise a test meeting, especially if this is the first time your charity is staging a remote meeting.
A test meeting will highlight any issues and help identify areas in which your charity needs to be more prepared.
Consider the meeting processes
A meeting held remotely still needs to cover all requirements your charity would cover in a regular in-person meeting. Ensure your charity is clear about:
- how it will record minutes and distribute them
- how it will allow participation from attendees – listening, speaking and voting
- how it will distribute documents during the meeting
- how the ordinary processes of a traditional meeting will work in a remote setting.
Make the meeting concise
If your charity is holding a remote meeting as a one-off or because of extraordinary circumstances, it may be worth foregoing matters that are not essential – at least until you meet in person again.
But even if your charity is looking to make remote meetings a regular occurrence, it is good practice to ensure the meeting agenda is not overloaded and that the meeting itself keeps to time.
Retain regular housekeeping rules
Maintain the housekeeping rules your charity follows for a regular in-person meeting.
However, it can be more difficult to manage time remotely, so ensure there is sufficient time allocated for each part of the meeting.
Manage the voting process
Voting on matters will be more difficult in a remote meeting. However, there are a variety of ways your charity can manage this:
- email during or after the meeting
- poll or survey using the video conference service or a separate service
- separate online voting app
- paper ballot by post.
Whichever method your charity chooses, it should be explained to the attendees and absentees, the process should be transparent, and the results should be shared.
There are a number of common apps or software programs available that can help with voting processes.
Manage the questions
For questions not submitted in advance, consider how your charity will manage them in real time. There are a variety of ways your charity can approach this:
- email during the meeting to a central email address
- chat or message board in the video conference service or via a separate service
- text messages or phone chat group to a central number
- audio questions in real time from attendees.
Responding to questions is an important part of this consideration too.
Think about how responses will work and whether there is room for broader discussion on the back of the questions. Not all formats will work for this.
It is important to be clear about the process and any moderating that goes into it.
Establish a way to finalise the meeting minutes
It is important to retain your charity’s regular post-meeting processes.
Consider how your charity’s regular way of finalising a meeting, the minutes and other records or documents will work in a remote setting.
Ensure the minutes, records and any other relevant materials are distributed in a timely manner to all who require them.
Be clear about the process for this – for example, will it be via email or post?