Why should you keep committee minutes?
Monday, July 08, 2019
Committees work under the authority of a board of directors. The bylaws prescribe their appointment; policies detail their operations. The volunteer groups (committees, task forces, councils, special interest groups, etc.) are intended to supplement the work of the board and staff.
Asset or Liability
Committees may be an asset or a liability. They can produce significant results, such as generating revenue, developing educational programs, and driving new projects.
Committees are a way to engage members who benefit through the exchange of information and meeting peers. Future leaders are developed through participation.
"FRPA relies on committees to engage members and develop innovative ideas to advance our mission and goals. They also serve a critical role in moving forward our strategic plan. Committees are a great way to strengthen the association," said Eleanor Warmack, CPRP, CAE, executive director at the Florida Recreation and Park Association.
The groups also can be a liability. Because they fall under the auspices of the board, any price fixing, speaking inappropriately for the organization, copyright violations or the loss of funds, will impact the organization.
They require training and oversight. Mission creep is possible. Zealous committees may exceed their charge and must be reined in.
Some boards do not realize that committees expend resources such as time and budget. The staff must administer to their needs. Assigned board liaisons champion their efforts. And the board chair has accountability for the volunteer groups working under the board, necessitating that he or she monitor their progress.
Committees can draw or repel members. A poorly managed committee, without an agenda, lack of respect for time, or minimal results, can drive away volunteers. I’ve seen members only to start late and not achieve anything; it was their last meeting.
Importance of Keeping Minutes
Cynically it has been said that "committees keep minutes and waste hours."
Keeping minutes is a smart practice. It’s a record of what the group did at a specific meeting, who attended and any needs or recommendations.
Minutes inform the board and staff. They communicate progress, or equally important, problems. When committees lose traction, quorum, or direction, the board should be aware.
Onie Luna, executive director of the Cambodian Women Entrepreneurs Association offers, "Committees are integral to our association. Their efforts help the board achieve results. Through the minutes the board is aware of their progress."
Combining a year of minutes serves as a tool for successive committee chairs. By reading last year’s minutes the committee can build upon prior efforts and avoid redundancy.
Archive in various manners. Maintain a notebook the chair can manage and pass along to the successive chair. Or establish a portal accessible to board, staff and committee members, promoting collaboration and 24/7 access.
Committees should collaborate between related groups, avoiding silos. Their efforts are more impactful by engaging with related committees. The minutes are the platform for understanding the initiatives of related work groups.
The IRS Question
The IRS asks if committees keep minutes on Form 990. “Did the organization contemporaneously document the meetings held or written actions undertaken during the year by…each committee with authority to act on behalf of the governing body?”
Some organizations have adopted a policy that committees have NO authority to speak for the board or expend funds. This may limit the requirement to take minutes. The IRS tends to consider "authority" as having board powers as opposed to a task such as the conference or investment committees.
Whether or not one is responding to the IRS question, it is a smart practice to rely on minutes to monitor committee progress and reduce potential problems.
Recording the Minutes
When it comes to who should take the minutes, it can be anybody on the committee. It is wrong to assume it is the duty of the staff liaison. Liaisons are there to provide guidance and champion the committee.
Provide a template. Brief is better, and they don’t have to be typed, just legible. A one-page template suffices.
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