How to Make Your AGM Great, Not Just Necessary

You, like us, are probably neck-deep in planning your organization’s Annual General Meeting (or if you are even more like us, realizing you should have started a few weeks ago!). It seemed like the perfect time to talk about AGMs— and how to change them from the usual snooze-fest to a really good use of your time and resources.

Meet your legal requirements— and move on.

Ideally, AGMs are supposed to be a moment to connect with your membership and to ensure democratic participation in the organization. In practice, they are most often a dry read of the financial statements and an uninspiring election. What would it look like to meet the legal obligations of our Annual General Meetings (quickly and efficiently), and then use the rest of our time to actually engage our membership?

One inspiring if extreme example is Springboard, a Toronto-based non-profit. They decided last year to hold their AGM in 8 minutes (it came in at 9). In that time, they were able to “ensure the transaction of business was in accordance with incorporation requirements”, and assure their members that the organization was well governed.  They followed up with a reception where they celebrated their accomplishments and initiatives. Let’s learn from them: our legal and financial business could definitely be shorter.

Integrate other organizational objectives.

Often AGMs can feel like a bureaucratic necessity that detracts from our actual mission. What if we tried to think about our AGM as meeting other goals we have as an organization?

Snakes and Ladders game at COCo’s 2016 Annual General Meeting

In my role as a communications coordinator for COCo, I try hard to integrate our communications objectives into the Annual Meeting. That can include time sensitive objectives— like communicating our brand new 5-year plan (also known as the Theory of Change)  or ongoing ones like helping people understand what we actually do.  Last year, we created a “Snakes and Ladders of Community Groups” interactive board game where players faced different snakes (funding cuts, internal conflict, lack of board motivation) and other ladders (membership renewal, partnership opportunities, a clear action plan). This allowed our members to see like we do the kinds of challenges and opportunities that community groups face.

Talk about Impact, not Activity

 

annual general meeting non profit

People playing a game at our 2015 AGM

Avoid structuring your AGM as a department-by-department report. Instead, ask what your greatest achievements have been this year, what has changed at your organization, or what big things you have coming up— and build the Annual General Meeting around those answers. Can you include storytelling and testimonials? Guest speakers, or service users? Many of us have funder imposed restrictions in how we discuss and relate information in our annual report— but it is your AGM, and you can emphasize what is most important to you.

 

Find a Theme.

It’s no secret that COCo is a fan of themed AGMs because this helps us make things more dynamic and interactive. A perfect theme is one that reflects either your organization’s “personality” or is a good reflection of what actually happened this year. Further, it should feel generative. That is, it easily gives you ideas about how to make your Annual General Meeting engaging. We found that themes like “Mardi Gras”, or “Games” fit who COCo is as an organization, and also lent themselves to activities we could use as part of the evening.

Use your Annual General Meeting as part of your evaluation practices.

AGMs are a rare chance to consult with our members as a group. However, often when we have that chance, we can accidentally spend our time talking at them and not with them. In fact, Annual General Meetings can be a great opportunity to get member input on our services, strategies, or role in the community.  Here are a few facilitation ideas for how to integrate evaluation into your AGM:

  1. Sticky Wall: Do you want to know how your organization is perceived?  Try creating a sticky wall (or a post-it wall) that people fill in (solo or in pairs) as they come in. People put post-its under questions like “what do you most love about us?”, or “are there parts of our mission you do not understand?”, and “what about us makes us unique?”. Getting answers to questions can help strengthen any communications, recruitment, or outreach strategies.
  2. World Café Model: Do you want to know what your members think about the issues you’re campaigning about?  Think about using a World Cafe model— where groups have a way of efficiently and creatively thinking through problems and possible solutions.
  3. Classic Brainstorm: Do you want to know what issues are top of mind for the residents of your neighbourhood? Have people brainstorm together the top “issues” they want to talk about— and then split into small groups to discuss. You can come back and share as a group, and make connections between different issues members are facing.
  4. Small Discussion Groups: Do you want to ask your members what you could do to improve your services or advocacy? Often, people are more comfortable sharing feedback in smaller groups. Can you split your Annual Meeting into smaller discussion groups, led by a Board member or staff person? Can they ask open-ended questions that will help you understand your strengths and weaknesses as an organization?

We hope this helps spice things up this year, and let us know what other AGM strategies you have used! And finally, you are warmly invited to our 2017 Annual General Meeting, which will be on Wednesday, March 29th. You can find the registration form here.