At the Association of Charitable Organisations we ran our first virtual AGM
As Chair of Trustees for the ACO I was a bit nervous about running an AGM virtually and in practice, it was very different from a face to face meeting. However, it allowed for a wider attendance and we had some great engagement.
How we ran our first virtual AGM
Several members have expressed an interest in how ACO went about running our first virtual AGM, where members might soon find the need to do the same. Below are some considerations and learnings from our experience.
Should I run a virtual AGM or postpone?
You may be considering whether your charity needs to run a virtual AGM, or can postpone until a time where it is feasible to run an AGM in person.
While the Charity Commission is allowing some flexibility on when to hold your AGM under the current circumstances, it would be worth considering that if you have a quorum that must attend for AGM decisions to be valid whether, with social distancing in place, enough people would be willing to and feel safe travelling to and attending your AGM any time soon.
We found holding a virtual AGM actually had some advantages over an in-person event. We had a greater attendance than normal as it was much easier for people to log in and join rather than having to travel to our event. Plus, we also found we had different attendees to those that usually turn up for our events for similar reasons for not having to travel.
If your governing documents allow, a virtual AGM can be considered, but if you do not have anything allowing this in your constitutions, the Charity Commission advises documenting your discussions and decisions to show good governance, and that this should be accepted by the Commission. Alternatively, it is worth checking your charity's constitutions now to see if it allows for virtual meetings and AGMs, and does not explicitly prohibit them, and making any necessary amendments if needed.
Video conference vs. webinar
Although there any many video conference providers out there, we ran our virtual AGM using a Zoom webinar. This meant that we could have our CEO and Board of Trustees visible as Panelists on the call, but none of the other attendees would be visible on the screen and heard. The disadvantage with this, as opposed to a standard Zoom meeting, is you lose the networking interaction from being able to see all other members. However, with around 50 attendees we decided it would be easier to manage all attendees by using the webinar feature instead, allowing Chat and Q and A functions for attendees to contribute.
Zoom has provided a comparison between their meeting and webinar functions.
For the presentations, we used the Screen Share function available to all panelists to share a pre-made PowerPoint presentation with all attendees. This allowed the Chair to talk through the presentation and change slides at will, which all attendees could see and hear.
For the voting, we used the polling feature in Zoom. This allows questions to be pre-loaded in a simple way before the meeting that can then be run and visible to all attendees at any point during the meeting. Although, one thing we found is it would be worth doing a trial run with the polling beforehand, as it can be difficult to find how to launch the next question in the polling feature during the meeting. It is also important to consider how you will ensure that for each of your members that each only gets one vote, even though multiple individuals from that member might be present on the call.
It is also worth doing some housekeeping with your panelists and prepping them beforehand if they are not used to being a panelist on a video call. This could include reminding them to mute themselves when not speaking and to mute notifications from their computers, to prevent the chances of any unexpected interruptions.
If someone is unable to access your virtual AGM, if your constitution allows a proxy to be nominated to vote on their behalf this could be a way around this as they would be able to log into the meeting and vote for that member. Proxy forms could also be made available in advance of the meeting that can be returned back to the organisation.
For more information about some of the legal considerations of running a virtual AGM during lockdown, this article from Wilsons Solicitors provides some useful guidance.