In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, COCo made a last-minute decision to hold an online AGM, instead of the in-person we had planned. Many of you have your Annual General Meetings in the coming months and will be facing similar questions, so we wanted to share what we have learned!
There are a few other guides on online AGMs, if you have more questions.
- The Ontario Nonprofit Network created this guide to facilitating online AGMs from (link) and a script for online AGMs (link)
- A guide from Canarie (link)
The Timing of Your AGM
Most community organizations have restrictions on when they can hold their Annual General Meeting, which you can learn more about in our legal information sheet (link). Some examples of this are:
- Often, an organization’s bylaws will stipulate it must happen within 4 months of the end of a financial year, or within some other specific timeframe
- The law requires that financial statements be presented within 4 months of their approval
- Funders often have their own requirements for Annual General Meetings
- These regulations will also vary depending on if you are incorporated through the Quebec Companies Act or not, so make sure to check that out
The first step for your organization might be to clarify when your AGMs normally take place, and why. What kind of flexibility is available to you? For example, some funders have been waiving their requirements around AGMs (such as the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux, whose communication on this issue is attached).
At COCo, we could have had at least an extra month for our AGM. However, our team decided that we would rather just get it done. We figured that once we’re back at work, we’ll have so many delayed projects that it will feel challenging to refocus on a delayed AGM. Additionally, we were conscious of the fact that as this pandemic continues, our own team might be more and more affected, and we might have less and less capacity to do an online AGM. So we pushed forward!
Legal Considerations for an Online AGM
We’ve heard a few organizations incorporated in Quebec say that AGMs simply can’t happen online. This isn’t quite true- but only as of recently.
Earlier this year, Quebec made changes to the Companies Act that make it easier to have video or phone meetings for your nonprofit Board or for your general assemblies (link). We wrote recently about alternatives to in-person meetings that still meet the legal requirements for nonprofit governance (link). Read both of those articles as you prepare an online AGM, especially if you are incorporated with the Quebec Companies Act!
In addition, here are some questions for your organization that might help you figure out some of the other legal issues of a virtual general meeting:
- Who can vote at your AGM? Are there people present at your AGMs who can’t vote? How will you verify who is and isn’t voting at your online AGM?
- What do your bylaws say about your AGM’s location and notice? Does your Board need to make any changes to the bylaws for a online AGM to be possible?
- Do you have a way of verifying votes afterward? Can you still protect the secrecy of people’s votes when required?
- Do you need to keep track of who was at your AGM, or how many people?
Setting up the Meeting for Your Online AGM
We used Zoom for our AGM. Some of us were already familiar with the tool and so it seemed like the flattest learning curve for the short time we had to set things up. However, there are lots of other tools out there you could look into.
Whatever you choose, schedule a run-through of your presentation a few days before your AGM to make sure everything works as planned. We discovered a lot of changes we needed to make in our run through- don’t skip this step!
We had already set up a google form for the in-person AGM we had planned, so we kept taking registrations through that same form. This had the advantage that it allowed our team to see who had registered without having to go into the Zoom meeting administration- and people who had already registered didn’t need to do so again.
As we didn’t use the Zoom registration, we had to find a different way to keep track of who’s in the room. A simple way to do this is to use a waiting room. You can set up a ‘waiting room’ for your meeting by checking that option in the meeting parameters when you schedule the meeting.
For people who arrived in our waiting room with their name displayed, we checked them off on our attendee list as we let them into the meeting. To the others, we sent a personal chat message asking for their name.
Because it was important for us to be able to quickly identify who is a member and who is not, the meeting host changed participants’ display names as they were in the waiting room. We added a prefix for members (M-) and for staff (S-). Board members also were identified by adding (Board) after their name. As a host, you can change people’s names by clicking the three little dots next to their names. You can also change your own name as a participant.
You could find your own solution to this – we often have lots of non-members at our AGMs, so it was important for us to have this be very clear.
We had people on mute by default, as we asked people to stay on mute unless they were speaking. The hosts also are capable of muting people if someone has forgotten to do this, so practice doing this ahead of time!
Hosts and Co-Hosts
We had 1 host and 2 co-hosts. As a host, you can make other people co-hosts (link). This allowed us to have two people doing back end tech support and the MC to have more power to do things like screen share, which we restricted to only hosts.
In addition to having a minute taker as we usually would, we also made sure to
- Save the chat log from our AGM
- Save the list of people who were in the AGM call
- Create a report for the votes (polls) after the meeting, which happens in the backend of Zoom
Voting Procedures in an Online AGM
These are the procedures we used, but you can see some other voting strategies ones in the guides we linked at the top.
Using the Chat to Vote
For when we needed someone to motion and second, we asked people to do it in the chat.
We ended up taking two other votes by chat also, to approve changes to our bylaws. People typed YES, NO, or ABSTAIN in the chat. We did this only because our polling feature wasn’t working (more on that later) and it worked well because it was easy to count – everyone said yes! We would not recommend if you think your voting might be more controversial- it would require a lot of irritating manual counting.
Using the Poll Feature to Vote
When we needed a vote, our plan was to use the polling feature on zoom. We had planned to use polls for our bylaw changes and Board elections – however, the poll broke on the day of, such that we couldn’t see who had voted in the polls, and we had to come up with a plan B on the fly. If you learn from our mistakes, though, you could make use of this feature!
- We think what broke the poll for us was using special characters (in our case, emojis and forward slashes). So, don’t include any of those in your polls!
- Polls can’t be copied from one meeting to another. While we had tested polls, we had tested different polls, so we didn’t catch this issue! A workaround would be to do a run-through meeting a couple of days before the AGM and save that meeting as a meeting template. Polls saved in the template will then show up in meetings that you have created based on the template.
- Zoom’s polling tool is quite limited in functionality- there are only a few kinds of questions possible, so think this through beforehand.
To use the polling feature, you have to first turn on polling in your account settings and then set up polls in your meeting settings.
If you want to be absolutely certain that only members vote in a poll, we found a way to do this with Zoom. Basically, what you need to do is send non-members to a separate room while you let members vote (using the breakout room feature in Zoom). Assign all non-members to a breakout room and open that room whenever a vote needs to take place. While the non-members are in the breakout room, you can launch the poll in the main room. Only people in the main room will see the poll. After you close the poll, you also close the breakout room and everyone will be back in the main room.
People moving to and from a virtual room is quicker than in the material world, but it doesn’t happen instantly, so plan time for that. We couldn’t try this at our AGM, so if you do this at yours, let us know how it went!
Voting by Google Form
Because of the poll feature breaking on us, we ended up creating a google form for the board member election. It looks like this:
Communicating to Participants
An email was sent to everyone who registered a few days before the AGM. The email had
- Information about technical aspects (how to connect to the meeting and what to do in case of technical problems)
- Key documents to accompany the AGM, like our Annual Report, the minutes from last year
- Confirmation (or not) as to whether someone was a member
We have attached examples of this communication if it is useful to you.
We also spent time at the beginning of the meeting making sure people knew how to:
- Write in the chat
- Raise their hands virtually
- Mute and unmute themselves
- Write a private message to COCo Tech Support
Our online AGM was a team effort. Here are some of the roles we had assigned to people to make sure it went smoothly.
- Tech Support. For us, we actually had two people on tech support, who were both hosts or co-hosts of the zoom event. The host of the event handled the registration desk (voting, chat message to late arrivals, sending screen captures for people who couldn’t find certain functions).
- Master of Ceremonies. This was the ‘president’ of our AGM, who guided us through the presentation and voting procedures, as well as answering questions in the chat. The screenshare was from this person’s computer.
- Presenters. We had different people present different sections of our AGM so that people heard from a variety of voices. Everyone worked with the MC ahead of time to figure out what to say, prioritize, and how long they had to speak
- Document dropper. Although we sent everybody documentation ahead of time, we also wanted to make sure they were available during the meeting. Every time we discussed a document, that person made sure to put it in the chat, in both languages- things like our minutes, annual report, financial statements, etc.
The usual best practices around PowerPoint presentations are especially important when it’s your only visual cue. The key things we learned along the way were:
- Simple and clear is key. Don’t overcrowd the slides or think you have to say and show everything! The slideshow is a synthesis; if people want your entire financial statements or annual report, they can look directly at those documents. You can see our example attached to this post. We also had to make our presentation bilingual, so you can see how we did that.
- Easy to read. Pay attention to accessibility standards, like a minimum font size of 12, using common fonts, and good colour contrast. We used a small number of colours and two fonts, for example.
- Use a template! We used a service called Slides Go for templates and icons; it made our presentation look good without us having to reinvent the wheel.
- Presenter notes. We had a separate document with our presenter notes instead of using the ones “in” Google Slides. Because what you are doing is screen sharing the document, the built-in ‘presenter notes’ would be visible to everyone or not visible to anyone.
- Speaking time. We gave clear time instructions to everyone speaking about each slide – to prepare a minute to a minute and a half’s worth of content
- Preparation time. It’s worth noting that making something that is clear, simple, and prioritizes key points takes a lot more time than the alternative – so build that time in. For us, it was a few days of work!
Our PowerPoint presentation is attached if you want to take a look.
2 Tech Tricks
There were a couple of things we did to make our lives easier that might help you as well.
- Our MC had 3 ‘monitors’. One main monitor for the screen share and presentation; a second monitor (in this case, a cell phone) with the presenter notes propped up on the main monitor, and a second computer linked to the zoom call with the chat and participants window expanded, so the MC could easily see questions, comments, and raised hands.
- Our team also set up a separate channel of communications (we used a WhatsApp group) for us to communicate about important issues going on throughout the call, for example, if the MC had missed key information or there was a back end tech issue. This proved to be particularly useful as we ran into a problem with the Zoom polling tool and had to quickly set up another way of voting but could do so without distracting the MC from the presentation continues.
Need More Help?
If you need more help getting your online AGM set up, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will do our best to help!