Non-profits have been left with many questions around how to safely and effectively govern their organization while accounting for physical distancing measures and limited capacity. This page contains guides and resources on Annual General Meetings, board meetings, bylaws, and more.
Our friends at the Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) gave us permission to adapt their helpful guide to facilitating Virtual AGMs for Alberta audiences.
The guide includes answers to key questions; recommendations on platforms and roles; and tips and tricks learned along the way.
The Government of Alberta has officially announced that non-profits and societies can postpone Annual General Meetings and filing of annual returns until meeting restrictions are lifted.
Additionally, cancellation or dissolution processes for societies and non-profit companies that have not filed previously outstanding annual returns are suspended until further notice.
More information is available here.
We’ve received updates from the Government of Alberta in regards to Annual General Meetings during the production of this document. This is the announcement we have received from Service Alberta:
Both for-profit and non-profit entities may postpone their annual general meetings for a period of 3+ months. This is effective immediately and runs to the end of June 2020.
Corporate Registry will suspend the monthly processes used to dissolve or cancel registrations for both profit and non-profit entities, including cooperatives, for a period of three months beginning April 2020.
We are waiting for an official communication from the Government of Alberta on their website and will link it here once we have it.
Non-profits and for-profits alike are wondering how to respond to COVID-19 preventing the hosting of Annual General Meetings (AGMs). This annual convening helps organizations connect with members, shareholders, stakeholders, and the general public. They are often required by legislation (Alberta’s Societies Act, for example) or otherwise by an organization’s constitution, charter, or bylaws.
These meetings are necessary for governing bodies to fulfill various duties, including electing new members, receiving information from the previous year, reviewing financial health and standing, or making changes to bylaws.
For those worried because you have an AGM in the very near future and do not know how to proceed: the first thing you should do is reference your organization’s bylaws.
It’s important to understand the limitations your bylaws set for your AGM. There are many details in your bylaws to consider and specific language to watch out for. For example:
Common standards for bylaws will generally leave you with two possible options:
If your bylaws do not state that the meeting MUST occur in a physical place, or that voters MUST be physically present, or that virtual means are NOT allowed, then you should be able to host a virtual AGM.
Hold tight, we are in conversations with Service Alberta to address this piece, as it is an extremely common issue non-profits are facing. Feel free to check out this article as it may set precedent in this difficult time.
Additionally, many governance advisers are evaluating the context and possible interpretations of “in person” requirements. For example, it’s fairly easy for a person to be virtually present at a live event (e.g., through FaceTime or another videoconferencing platform) in such a way as to receive information, participate in discussions, and cast a ballot to the same effect as somebody who is physically present.
Make sure to be thorough when looking at the language of your bylaws. Consider your attendance and quorum: how will it be verified virtually? What is your method of voting? What is your method for motions? Can motions be brought on from the floor? Does your virtual system have the capacity to do that? It may seem like quite a bit task, but so is planning a standard AGM. Take it step by step to ensure that you do have the capability to host one virtually.
Next, you will need to contact your members with enough notice and explain the process to the best of your ability. Here’s a link that could be helpful in answering some of your questions on the specifics of virtual AGMS. One key recommendation we have is to ensure that you have staff or volunteers dedicated to tech support throughout your AGM to troubleshoot and assist those that need it.
If you decide to hold your AGM virtually, let us know how it goes. Pass your learnings to us so we can share more broadly with the sector and learn from each other. Community is essential to keep us moving forward.
Many non-profit boards face the prospect of postponed or canceled meetings and a limited ability to carry on with necessary governance work. Rather than struggling to pass motions and collect votes via email threads, we’ve developed a guide to support boards in shifting their work into the virtual space.
Preparation: Consider your bylaws
Always be sure to reference your organization’s bylaws and take note of any that provide limitations on meeting space, structure, and timing. Take these into account before presenting the decision to your board.
In most cases, you must bring a motion to your board to allow virtual meetings to occur. Here’s are templates for you to use, if you like:
After shifting online, there are three key transitions you will need to work through as a board, including the shift to the virtual space, discovering and understanding the functionality of it, and then the ongoing process of learning and adapting in order for your organization to have the most success in this uncertain time.
Step 1: Select a Platform
Once the decision has been made to go virtual, your board can move forward and select a virtual space for your meetings.
In this step, explore options of platforms suitable for your board. Consider questions such as: does it fit the needs of your current meetings? Will it be difficult for the board to understand? How can you engage board members in facilitating the transition?
Platform Options for Meetings
Several platforms offer free options with restrictions such as meeting length and number of attendees. In most cases, we suggest using a platform you are familiar with or a company whose other applications are widely already in use by your board.
Popular and effective options include:
Options for Ongoing Dialogue
It’s important to consider how your board will facilitate ongoing discussions and decision-making between members, including conversations between meetings, holding votes, and collecting information.
We suggest using tools your board is already familiar with and, if possible, integrate with your video meeting software. Options include:
Additional apps are available that may help specific aspects of your board work, like voting. If your board is confident with adding additional tools, you may find this to be an opportunity to trial apps for long-term use. As an example:
Loomio is one of our favourites, since it is very affordable for community organizations and designed to facilitate and support good decision making. (Check out Loomio’s Board Governance Process and Workflows Guide!)
Regardless of what platforms you choose, ensure that you consider your fellow board members’ opinions and ensure that the tool supports the accessibility and inclusion of the whole board. You want to ensure everyone can access this technology or have some means to partake in the board meetings. Some one-on-one training, or resources and videos could be helpful in preparing everyone for the first meeting.
Step 2: Assess Functionality
Functionality is a key element to consider for adding a new platform to your board proceedings. Once a platform has been selected, we suggest exploring how your meetings will need to adjust to ensure all parties are prepared, informed and comfortable moving forward and making decisions virtually.
Take some time to test the various functions and ensure at least one board member understands the functionality of the new platform. Questions to consider are: Does your current meeting have a speakers list? If so, how will that need to adjust in the virtual space? It’s important to consider every element of your board meeting and understand how it will translate virtually.
Voting is one element to heavily consider. Understand and ensure communication is clear on how the board will make decisions and vote in the virtual space.
We strongly discourage email voting, as the ability to amend, edit and have lively discussion is significantly diminished. Especially with regards to voting, take the time to understand the functionality and limits of your technology and communicate thoroughly with all board members.
Keep in mind, technology is merely a tool rather than a solution.
Step 3: Assess Processes
Your first meeting will not be perfect. You will likely have to remind someone to mute their microphone, or someone’s camera will inevitably not function correctly, or someone won’t be able to login. Remember, it’s a learning process for everyone; it can be challenging and frustrating at times, but keep in mind that you’re building your board’s capacity in following through with such a transition.
In the future, if emergencies occur, your board will benefit from having tools and processes settled in advance. Long term, as more boards incorporate virtual platforms into their proceedings, you may find that this shift will create new opportunities for your board even in more stable times.
Be patient, work together and help each other out. This is an adjustment for everyone, and this process can be viewed as a great team building activity.
Lastly, we strongly recommend reading more on best practices and tips for online meetings and remote conversations. We encourage you to read GoToWebinar’s online meeting etiquette or Beth Kantor’s Running Effective Virtual Nonprofit Meetings. These are great resources to share with your board prior to the next meeting.
Although this pandemic may have halted organizational operations, governance must go on.
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us at [email protected]. We’re happy to help.