Once you’ve found a suitable date, time and venue for your meeting, following these guidelines will help you to run it effectively.
1. Have an agenda
Your governing document may tell you whether you should give advance notice of items to be discussed. Generally, if all present agree, they can introduce a new item of business on the day of the meeting.
2. Deal with any conflicts of interest
If a trustee’s decision-making could be influenced by their personal circumstances, or their involvement with another organisation, they are in a conflict of interest.
Legal requirement: you must prevent a conflict of interest from affecting a decision you make.
3. Have a ‘quorum’ – enough people to make a decision
A quorum is the minimum number that must attend a meeting so that decisions can be made properly. The people may be trustees at a committee meeting, or members at a general meeting. Your governing document should tell you what your quorum is. If it doesn’t, think about amending it.
If you set your quorum too high, any absences may make it difficult to have a valid meeting. If it’s too low, a small minority of people may be able to impose its views unreasonably.
The commission recommends that the quorum for a trustees’ meeting is a minimum of one third of the total number of charity trustees plus one. So a charity with ten trustees will have a quorum of four.
For general meetings, you should give careful thought to the quorum – it needs to be appropriate to the size of your charity and the number and geographical spread of members.
You still need to ensure that you have a quorum throughout the course of a remote or hybrid meeting.
4. Follow voting rules (if applicable)
Voting arrangements differ between charities and the type of meeting that you are holding. As a general rule, you should follow the instructions in your charity’s governing document.
At trustee meetings, generally only the trustees vote on decisions. If a vote is evenly split, sometimes the chair has a second, casting vote to decide the matter, but only if the governing document says so. At general meetings, the members vote on decisions.
Usually a show of hands is enough to tell the result of a vote, but a poll can be used if not. You will need to ensure it is clear how those attending a virtual or hybrid meeting can vote.
5. Keep minutes of every meeting
The commission recommends that you keep accurate minutes of all meetings. They don’t need to be word-for-word, but should give:
- the name of the charity
- the type of meeting
- the date and time of the meeting
- the names of those present
- who chaired the meeting
- what capacity people attended in, such as trustee or staff member
- any absences for agenda items due to conflicts of interest
- apologies for absence
The minutes should record exactly what was agreed, particularly for important or controversial decisions. For example:
- the exact wording of any resolution and who proposed it
- a summary of the discussion on each item of business
- information used to make decisions
- how many votes were made for and against, and how many didn’t vote
- what action is needed and who is responsible for taking it
- the date, time and venue of the next meeting
Ideally, someone who isn’t involved in the meeting should take the minutes. If a trustee is taking the minutes, they should ensure they can also contribute actively to the discussion.
You must make the minutes of trustees’ meetings available to all charity trustees. Professional advisers such as auditors may also ask to see them.
The minutes of a general meeting are usually made available to members (in the case of a charitable company they have to be) but you don’t have to make them available to the public unless the charity’s governing document says so.
Trouble at meetings
People can get very passionate about their charity’s work, and this can lead to debates and disagreement.
You and the other trustees are responsible for managing the charity’s meetings. Set standards of behaviour to make sure everyone present agrees to behave professionally and in the charity’s interest. For example, a code of conduct.
You can’t stop people coming to a meeting if they are entitled to be there. Tell the police if you think that people intend to cause violence at a meeting.