Meetings are a bit of our specialty at AssoConnect. After years of fine-tuning, training in the proper methodology, and much trial and error, we have come to perfect our meeting culture.
Our conclusion? With the proper note-taking reflexes and the support of a good software, we have found that anybody can take high-quality meeting minutes without any training at all.
Here is what you need to know:
- What Are Meeting Minutes?
- Why Are They Important?
- Who Should Be Taking Them?
- What Needs to Be Included?
- Note Taking Tips
- Meeting Minutes Template
- Preparing for Circulation
- Sending the Minutes
- Best Tools For Meeting Minutes
- Get and Give Feedback
Let’s get started!
What Are Meeting Minutes?
In a few simple words, meeting minutes are a written transcript of what was discussed and decided during a meeting or hearing. This applies to board meetings, daily meetings, weekly check-ins, formal hearings, general assemblies and more.
Contrary to popular belief, the term "meeting minutes" does not come from the measurement of time, but rather the latin phrase "minuta scriptura" which means "small notes." Basically, taking meeting minutes means centralizing the information down the most important ideas.
Minutes can come in multiple formats, from formal documents adopted and approved by multiple parties, to scattered post-it notes (although we don’t recommend this technique). As long as the minutes are not required by law (i.e. in a legal dispute), you are free to use whatever method you feel appropriate.
Why Are They Important?
While having a written record is never a bad idea, it can certainly be the last thing on your mind in time-sensitive situations. Getting into the habit of taking quality minutes early on highly affects productivity levels within teams and avoids unnecessary back-and-forth later.
Meeting minutes provide a shared understanding of outcomes and objectives. They are an essential information source that can be used as a reference in the days, months, and years to follow. Additionally, having a written record is a great way to bypass possible misunderstandings among teammates who might interpret information differently or at different speeds.
Among their other advantages, meeting minutes provide structure and assign tasks for a clear and agreed-upon timeline. They clarify next steps and the responsibilities of each person. Those that were not present at the meeting also have a place to consult decisions that were made in their absence.
Last but certainly not least, they allow participants or new team members to go back and read the notes that lead to an important decision. If there is no clear record, it is nearly impossible to remember why every strategic decision was made, and the pros and cons of each option. At AssoConnect, this is one of the primary reasons we are robust note takers! No need to filter through our old texts, slack messages or notebooks in order to review strategy.
Who Should Be Taking Them?
For quality purposes, there should be one designated party for each event type in your organization. For monthly or yearly events like a board meeting or a general assembly, taking the meeting minutes generally falls under the role of the secretary.
The secretary is responsible for keeping your organization's records up to date, which includes a written summary of any formal sessions called to order. They collect and consolidate all discussion topics from other board members, staff and any miscellaneous issues and create a comprehensive meeting agenda.
Besides efficiency’s sake, nonprofit organizations of all types are required to have meeting minutes that act as an official record to show that regular board meetings took place. The meeting minutes, in the event of a lawsuit, can be subpoenaed for various reasons. Quality is key, therefore having a designed role like the secretary to gather and verify the appropriate information is an essential part of good governance.
For meetings that require less monitoring, we highly suggest that you vote on a "scribe" for each gathering. Assigning the role of "scribe" is a technique that we have been using for several years in our teams and has proven to be very useful.
The role of the scribe is very close to that of the secretary but with a few extra tasks. While noting down the principal takeaways from the meeting and noting any upcoming action that needs to be taken, this person also organizes the next meeting and any task forces needed to meet our objectives.
They can take notes in any fashion they choose (i.e. on paper or digitally) but is required to:
Send the follow-up to all involved parties no longer than 20 minutes after the meeting has ended
Schedule any supplementary meetings no longer than a week after the original gathering
Send the notes with the information in the following order: Members present, decisions made with the pros and cons, major discussion points, and the proposed topic for the next meeting.
Since this technique is used generally for daily or weekly meetings, the scribe changes with every meeting to vary the tasks and make sure everyone is comfortable with the exercise.
What Needs To Be Included?
Before jumping into the deep-end, knowing what goes into formal meeting minutes is not just important, but necessary in case of legal action. While there is no current legal precedent for how meeting minutes must be constructed, they must be specific enough to record votes and capture the board’s focus and decisions. Here is what to include:
Minutes From Previous Meeting
Your new meeting minutes should begin with your notes from the previous gathering. Depending on the procedures of your organization, if the notes were not validated by the Chair after the last meeting, they must be validated at the start of the next.
If they were approved for circulation, then a summary of the last meeting’s discussion points will be useful. This will remind those that were present of the current context, what challenges your organization may have been facing, shows where you have progressed, and puts everyone in a proper working mindset.
For those who were absent at the last meeting, it is an opportunity to catch them up and opens the door for them to ask any lingering questions.
If you feel that attaching the full minutes is unnecessary, a summary of the talking points is recommended in its place.
Following your summary of the previous meeting should be the current meeting agenda. The agenda acts as a guideline for your meeting minutes and gives an idea to the members of your meeting what is on the docket for discussion.
A good agenda is prepared in advance and is approved by the appropriate party before formal presentation. The goal is getting everything on the docket and not having any miscellaneous subjects take up formal discussion time that wasn’t previously planned.
To do this, you can speak to not only the board members on what they feel needs to be addressed, but also staff, volunteers, and grantees. This assures that you have your time managed efficiently and that you don’t forget to address any extra issues!
Date & Time
This is probably pretty self explanatory, but here it is. Verify that you have noted the date and time of your meeting. Not only for legal purposes, it will be helpful to know not only the day of your last meeting (i.e. if anyone was absent) but the time of day as well.
You can then go back and see what meetings had the most attendance based on this information and optimize for future gatherings.
Names of Participants
Again, pretty straightforward. The participants must be recorded for legal reasons as well as those who were absent from this meeting. Nothing revolutionary, but printing out an attendance sheet or recording it on your ERP software will save time rather than writing them down one-by-one.
Amendments to Previous Minutes
Another good topic to begin with is if there are and/or were any amendments to the previous meeting minutes.
If the previous minutes have been already approved, the amendments are generally made with a "Motion to Amend Something Previously Adopted." The motion is approved, then you must amend the previous meeting minutes with the appropriate correction.
Pro Tip: Avoid amending adopted minutes as much as possible. If you can encourage proposing changes before the final version is approved by the Chair, it is recommended to do so.
Decisions on Each Item
I know it seems like we are stating the obvious, but this is the most important section of your minutes. It is an extremely challenging exercise to write detailed notes that are neither too long or too exhaustive. Some decisions you might note are:
Motions approved or rejected
Items put on hold
Documents to be shared
Next meeting topics
While there are multitude of ways to note on these decisions, it is important to be concise, listen just as much as you write, and most importantly, list the arguments for and against certain motions (more on this later).
Now that you know what goes into your meeting minutes, let’s dive into some of our best practices.
Note Taking Tips
Good note taking can be considered an art form of it’s own, so much so that there are those who still study shorthand. For a reminder from history class, shorthand is a note taking technique that uses abbreviations to increase writing speed. Now, we’re not telling you to jump onto YouTube and become a shorthand expert, but there are a few useful techniques that can help make your notetaking more brief while still assuring quality.
Create a Template
To keep things neat and tidy and give your notes some structure, we highly recommend using a template for your minutes that you print out or create digitally, beforehand.
Use the meeting agenda to break your document into several sections based on the proposed talking points and give yourself plenty of space between each item. This makes it easy to record any decisions made, pros and cons, and proposed next steps.
If your meetings tend often have amendments and motions, think to add into your template a dedicated section where you can record votes outside of your longform script minutes. Organization is key!
When you go back and re-read your notes to finalize them for approval, you will know exactly what goes in which section. Keep the template the same for each meeting, but update the talking points to avoid confusion later.
Ask for Clarification In the Moment
This is one of the most important tips in the book. While it may seem intimidating, asking for clarification on a decision, motion, or outcome in the middle of a discussion is essential to good follow up and follow through. Not to mention, keeps everyone on the same page.
Many times the discussion may be clouded with unnecessary details or miscellaneous topics and the final decision or next steps is not perfectly clear. In this case, it is best to stop other conversations until a final consensus has been reached. As the secretary, scribe or meeting leader, it is your responsibility to make sure all decisions are valid, final and recorded.
This also avoids you having to backtrack later or amend the minutes at the next meeting.
Don’t Write Everything Down
Avoid the urge to write down every detail. It will be impossible to keep up the pace of the conversation while also listening for the major decisions, leading votes or motions, and for your notes to be legible.
From a legal standpoint, you need to write down the major talking points, voting outcomes, next steps, and any major changes to budget or strategy. The rest depends on the standards in your organization and what is considered important information to your board.
If you have the bandwidth, writing down the arguments for and against certain amendments, motions or proposed decisions will help keep your organization on the same page. As we talked about a bit earlier, it is also an essential element of good governance.
If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed with note taking, don’t hesitate to record the meetings on your phone, computer or tablet to reference back to later. It takes the pressure off getting the tiny details down on paper and can be a great reference or onboarding tool for any new board members.
Remember, the idea is not to transcribe the meeting in your minutes, but rather get the main ideas for each talking point.
Pro Tip: Just like for image rights, be sure to ask everyone’s permission beforehand and store the recordings in a secure system like Dropbox or Google Drive.
Just like the role of the scribe, this is one of our famous AssoConnect meeting tips. The idea is simple: if we feel that the discussion points aren’t being followed, we are getting off topic or spending too much time on one subject, we call "Parking" and the point gets automatically added to the next meeting’s agenda.
As the note taker, your meeting minutes need to stay strictly organized. It is in your right to use the "parking" rule to keep everyone on track. This may come in the form of a formal motion or a simple gentle reminder to stay on track and focus on the objectives previously proposed.
Be sure to note in your minutes when "parking" was called and when, and regarding what subject. It will help you prepare for the next meeting and serves as a reminder for the next agenda.
Timestamp Each Subject
While you may not need an actual stopwatch, knowing how much time was spent on each time on the docket can help prioritize the preparation and detail of your notes.
For example, let’s say you have two major issues to discuss in your board meeting like investing in a management software and launching a work from home policy. The latter is discussed for 40 minutes, and there is a lot of back and forth on how many days will be allowed, different video conferencing tools or even work computers for your employees. The first topic is briefly touched on for 10 minutes, ending in a unanimous vote to buy a software.
Your notes will need to reflect the different debate time, and you will know where to put your time, effort and detailed notes into the proper sections.
Timing each section will also give a clear overview to your board or teammates about what subjects trend in priority, and will allow you to allot the proper time to each subject in the future.
Meeting Minutes Template
Here is a simple template you can use (or download above) for your meeting minutes. While this is a basic template, you are free to adapt it as you wish to fit the needs of your organization.
Preparing For Circulation
Once the meeting is over, the minutes must be cleaned, edited, approved, and properly circulated to the appropriate parties. Even though you may be tempted to send them right away, there are few key steps that should be taken beforehand.
Prepare Your Notes ASAP
Avoid the urge to take a long coffee break after your meeting (even if you might really need one) and type up the rest of your notes while your ideas are still top of mind.
As much as you think that you are going to remember, we can guarantee that you will be frustrated later because of that "I’m missing something" feeling. Be diligent about getting everything on paper shortly after the meeting, and it will avoid unnecessary relaying with other members during the validation process.
Verify You Are Adding Enough Detail
As discussed earlier, meeting minutes for formal gatherings, like board meetings, need to be recorded with enough detail to avoid any legal trouble later on. Not only a legal issue, making sure that you have information to give appropriate context and insight into each decision made is one the principal goals of taking good notes.
As suggested in the template, write a short summary of the decision made and the major arguments for and against. Once you feel comfortable with the content and quality, send it to another member of the board for feedback. They will be able to complete minutes with any notes they may have taken or give you recommendations to present the information in a more efficient way.
Pro Tip: Change proofreaders with every meeting. It gives everyone an opportunity to do the exercise and will give you different points of view and feedback on the form and function of the meeting minutes.
Easy to Read
If there is one thing to retain from this section, it is that form matters. Not only should your notes be detailed, but they should be gentle on the eyes.
A good design shows a level of professionalism and attention to detail that goes above and beyond the task of simply taking notes. You will find that the easier your notes are to read, the more people will read them in entirety (and appreciate your hard work).
You don’t have to be a graphic designer to master this technique, a simple word document or google doc with divided sections will do the trick. The essential is to keep everything concise, simple and draw the eye to the most important information.
Pro Tip: Use bold or colored text to make the important details stand out. It may seem trite, but the eye is naturally drawn to weight and color, especially when reading on a screen.
Don’t forget the gold rule of white space! It is always better to have your minutes span over several pages with clear sections than to condense everything onto one piece of paper.
Titles vs Names
When taking notes on debates, it is best to leave names out. It avoids confusion and unnecessary conflict, particularly when you are noting objections.
If you have to record who is opposed to a certain topic, it is preferable to use their title instead of their name. For example, If there is a team member objecting to a new program being added to the strategy, we would not record Jane Doe but rather her title, Lead Program Manager.
Avoiding conflict is not the only benefit here, but it also keeps notes organized for future references. In five years, you might not remember who Jane Doe is, but you certainly know what the responsibilities of the Head Program Manager are and why they might have been opposed.
Fact vs Fiction
As the secretary, scribe or note taker, it is your responsibility to be 100% objective when recording meeting minutes.
It is absolutely essential that your minutes are strictly fact-based and avoid any personal observations. Avoid using phrases that begin with "I," "We," or "You," and if you are having trouble, bullet points are always a great way to police this suggestion.
If you are unsure if something qualifies as a personal observation, be sure to ask for clarification on the matter at hand or listen to the recording of the conversation to check your work.
Attach Important Documents
Not only a best practice for meeting minutes, this is something that can apply to every position in every sector!
Before circulating the minutes, verify that your recipients have all of the supporting documents they need to understand the information you are providing them. This includes documents which are some of, but not limited to:
Previous meeting minutes
Budget for current & previous year
Donor and/or member reports
Under no circumstances should team members or board members have to ask for complementary information to have the full picture. You can do this in many ways, printing out kits, adding links in the PDF or even attaching them to the email.
Agreed & Approved
Once you have checked everything off your list, your meeting minutes are just about perfect, you have to send them off to the appropriate party for their stamp of approval.
For board meetings this is most often the role of the Chair. It is worth noting for formal gatherings, the minutes must be approved in order to be considered an official document. Depending on your organization’s procedure, they might be approved at the beginning of the next meeting.
For weekly or monthly meetings, we highly recommend that you get someone to read over your minutes if not for proofreading, but also for a second pair of eyes that are able to give a different perspective than your own.
Sending The Minutes
Once the minutes have been approved, you can proceed to send them to the recipients. Depending on the number of people you are sending them to, there are a few different methods to use.
As meeting minutes can be several pages long and include many supporting documents, online sharing is a great, eco-friendly option.
If you are using a word processor like Microsoft Word, you can send the document via email to your collaborators. Remember to put the document in a PDF format to protect your work. If you are sending out more than 30 emails, you can use an email marketing tool to speed up the process.
If your organization is already using the Google Apps, you can publish your notes in a Google document and "share" with your recipient list. By sharing the document and limiting permissions to "Editing", "Suggesting," or "Viewing," you can share information in one-click.
Using the Cloud
Using a cloud tool like Google Drive, Dropbox is another useful solution to sharing files digitally. On both platforms you can create a dedicated folder that hosts your meeting minutes where you can control the access permissions. An easy way to go green!
If you have a nonprofit software that hosts your website, one of the most popular techniques among our nonprofit partners is to create a dedicated intranet for board members. With AssoConnect you can limit the page visibility to particular groups like members, donors, or committee members and create an efficient internal communication tool to post meeting minutes, program updates, membership statistics, and more.
Best Tools For Meeting Minutes
The best note takers also need the best tools. Thankfully there a multitude of great tools out there to facilitate your note taking needs, but here are a few of the best:
Notion: Notion is one of our favorite tools for our teams, we use their service not only to record meeting minutes, but to hash out new strategies, create content, and brainstorm ideas. With high flexibility and a quick onboarding process, Notion is a great tool to create organized and visually appealing minutes.
Google Apps: Whether you are using docs, sheets or slides, the major benefit of using the google apps is that they integrate with nearly all systems. Many people know how to use them, there is little to no learning curve and resemble highly the classic Microsoft tools. Less flexible than Notion, they are more function over form.
Evernote: An online tool that comes highly recommended by many of our nonprofit partners, you can swiftly pass from one device to another without having to log back in or dig into piles of files to find what you were working on. A great feature for meeting minutes is that you can record the audio of your meeting on the same app.
OneNote: If you are an avid Microsoft user, this is probably the tool you are using for a multitude of reasons. Easy to use and that already comes integrated into your Microsoft Suite, the design is familiar and comfortable. There are few design features, but you can export OneNote documents in many different formats which is best for sharing via email.
Get And Give Feedback
Feedback of any kind is essential to our growth. On a professional or personal level, getting feedback in a respectful manner is a gift that should not be ignored and should be given regularly.
A few times a year you should seek feedback from the different levels of management on your meeting minutes. While it should not be a weekly occurrence, getting outside perspective, aside from the approval of the Chair, is a great way to get some fresh ideas and learn what is working well, or not so well, for the rest of the organization.
Based on the feedback you receive, you will be able to work in a more efficient manner that pleases the largest number of people. It also gives an opportunity for those outside of the regular meeting circle to propose new ideas like:
Working with new note taking tools
Working better with the tools you already have
Proposing a new design
Brainstorming a better or more efficient circulation strategy
More personalization of meeting minute content
Sharing the minutes with the rest of the organization
Updating meeting minute processes
Pro Tip: Set a dedicated time for feedback at the beginning of one of your meetings. Put it in the agenda so that you are sure to touch on the topic, even if it is briefly.
It is equally as important to give feedback as it is receiving it! Have a long look at your process of creating the meeting minutes from A-Z. Ask yourself some tough questions:
What is taking too much time?
Is there any part of the process that is painful?
What could make my job easier?
What part is working well?
Have there been any major changes in the sector?
Are we being as efficient as possible?
The answers to those questions are the basis for your feedback and will determine who exactly you need to give feedback to. Remember to structure your feedback with a positive intention!
Your feedback is essential to boosting productivity in not only a healthy meeting culture, but to keep producing high-quality minutes for every gathering!
Now you know everything about how to create consistent, high quality meeting minutes! We hope this article was helpful, let us know if you have any other suggestions in the comments.
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