If you’ve been tasked with taking minutes, the parliamentarian says to take heart. Here’s a four-step guide (with a bonus tip) to streamline your job.
Step 1: Start with the Basics
No need to complicate things. Minutes are simply the official record of proceedings. So start with the details that matter most. In the first paragraph state the following:
- group name
- type of meeting – regular, special, etc.
- date and time (and place – if the place isn’t always the same)
- that the chair and secretary were present (including names or names of substitutes)
- that a quorum was present
- that the minutes from the previous meeting were approved “as read” or “as corrected” (only if they actually were, of course)
Step 2: Write What Was Done, Not What Was Said
Minutes are not a transcript of the meeting. Nor are they a catalog of the secretary’s opinions about or commentary on the business transacted. They’re just a record of the actions taken.
Using a separate paragraph for each subject on the agenda, write (or type) out each main motion that the assembly considers. Write the words that the chair uses when she repeats the motion to the entire group. According to parliamentary procedure, the chair’s words – rather than the words that the motion maker uses – are the words that count.
Next, listen for debate, amendments, and procedural motions (e.g., referring a decision to committee). State whether the motion was adopted or defeated, with a note about whether it was amended or debated before the final vote. For example, you might say, “Following debate and amendment, the motion to spend $1,000 on green sidewalk chalk for the school was adopted.” Including general statements about the assembly’s discussion of an idea helps protect the group from accusations that it made a decision too summarily.
If the main motion is amended, and then adopted or defeated, you’ll want to include only the post-amendment, final wording of the motion. Note that any adopted amendment is in the minutes via the final wording of the motion, but . . . there’s no need to record for posterity the intricacies (e.g., whether to spend $750 or $1,000, or whether to buy green or pink chalk) of every amendment.
If the main motion was temporarily set aside via a procedural motion, note that fact and state any amendments that were pending at the time of the procedural vote. For example, the minutes could say, “The motion to purchase new iPads for the staff, with the pending amendment, was referred to the Technology Committee.”
Step 3: Don’t Forget a Few Necessary Details
Other than “the business that was done,” your meeting minutes should include a few extra items.
- Oral reports of committees. And yes, that means the substance of the entire report. Oral committee reports really shouldn’t happen that often (a topic for a different post), but when they do occur, the minutes should include a transcript of the entire report. Otherwise, there’s no solid record of that committee’s progress and deliberation.
- Notices of motions. Certain motions require advance notice – either to be adopted by a specific vote threshold or to be made at all. You can’t amend bylaws, for example, or make a motion to rescind an earlier action – without notice. These are the key words here. So, if a member gives notice of intent to make these motions at the next meeting, that notice must be recorded in the minutes as proof that it was properly and timely given.
- Points of order and appeals. If a member makes a point of order, then record the point, the chair’s ruling, and the reasons for the chair’s ruling – regardless of whether the point is well taken. If a member appeals the decision of the chair on a point of order, record that appeal and the results of the vote on it as well. The chair’s ruling and rationale, together with the results of the appeal, are important persuasive precedent for similar future scenarios.
Step 4: Wrap the Final Version Up Quickly
When the meeting ends, turn your draft minutes into final form, and distribute them to the necessary individuals as quickly as possible. Best practice is to do so as soon as the meeting ends and before you leave the venue. Reviewing your notes, deleting unnecessary information, and correcting any errors is much easier when the meeting’s events are recent memories. Besides, who wants to see “finalize minutes from last meeting” on their to-do list?
Bonus Tip: Turn Your Minutes into an Action Item List
As you turn draft minutes into final form for distribution, consider also making a list of all the motions that the group adopted. Put this list in bullet form, date it, and title it “Action Items from Board Meeting.” The action items list is a simple summary of the decisions that the group made and the motions that it referred to a committee or delayed to a future meeting. Other officers and the board will love having a quick reference guide for future meetings, plus it enables easy follow-up with key groups.
*Laws in various states may require public bodies to keep minutes that differ from the minutes described in this article.