By Paul Madden
Sports club secretaries will have to figure out a safe way to run the Annual General Meeting (AGM) during COVID-19 restrictions or else decide whether to postpone the AGM until it is safe to hold in person. The most obvious route for clubs to consider is holding a virtual AGM using online meeting software such as Zoom, GoTo Meeting, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet. People of all ages have become more familiar with online meeting software in recent months so it may be practical to host an AGM using one of these platforms.
For more information on running an effective AGM, read these 5 tips on a well-run AGM.
What does your Governing Body recommend?
It’s likely that different national governing bodies of sport will offer direct guidance to their members on how to handle Annual General Meetings in 2020. One of the first things they are likely consider is whether hosting a virtual Annual General Meeting is allowed under club constitution and National Governing Body rules. This may vary from sport to sport but given the extraordinary circumstances, it’s safe to say that the tried and trusted format of AGMs probably won’t be possible for the remainder of 2020 given requirements of social distancing, mask wearing etc.
There may well be sufficient leeway already for holding sports club AGMs online under club rules, for instance, GAA rules (Rule 8.3 of the Club Constitution) states as follows:
“An Annual General Meeting shall be held at such time as shall be decided upon by the Executive Committee, but insofar as is practical shall be held before the end of November each year.”
The ongoing and changing restrictions relating to COVID19 at local and national level may mean it will not be practical for clubs to run an AGM before the end of November (or even before the end of 2020). In fact, some clubs that wait until the New Year to hold an AGM may not have held an AGM since the early part of 2019 which would effectively leave them at least 2 years without one.
There will also be issues relating eligibility to vote and relating to quorum of members present – the minimum number of members in attendance to validate the events meeting. This will be stated in the club constitution but the governing body can provide guidance on what is expected here in the current climate.
Meeting online for AGM is new to most sports but maybe it’s been done before? Some clubs may already have experience hosting a club AGM virtually for different reasons. Even during 2020, coronarvirus might have already affected club AGMs (e.g. a local soccer, hockey or rugby club) and these may be able to advise on how they managed it and what they would do differently if they had to do so again. Triathlon Ireland were probably one of the first sports organisations to go down this route after they held their AGM online via Zoom in April with Cycling Ireland proposing to do the same in mid-October.
Preparing for the virtual AGM
Under normal circumstances members are notified at least two weeks in advance of the meeting and the AGM will typically be held at a clubhouse or local hotel. The numbers of attendees can vary significantly from year-to-year depending on weather, levels of interest etc. and it can be difficult to gauge how many will actually turn up on the night. This makes it more difficult to plan for an in-person AGM this year because there are restricted number allowed to attend public gatherings due to government regulations as well as the challenge of having sufficient space for attendees to social distance. These factors suggest a virtual AGM is the only real alternative other than postponement.
Galwegians RFC recently held their AGM online and in advance shared a list of Frequently Asked Questions with their members to help them understand what to expect from the virtual AGM. England Rugby have a list of resources for clubs that includes a webinar on how to run a virtual AGM here (thanks to Carl Blake at ‘Wegians for these additional tips!)
If your club volunteers are not familiar with online meeting software, it would be worthwhile running 1-2 test meetings in advance to built familiarity with the system being used.
Hosting the AGM
Clubs may already have access to the online meeting platforms mentioned above – some can be used for free but with time limits (e.g. Zoom has a 40-minute restriction and Google Meet has a 60-minute restriction for free users). For clubs that don’t have a paid subscription to one of these services, it may be possible to sign-up for a trial of one of the products and host the AGM during the trial period without being locked into a contract for 12 months.
AGM agendas will also differ for different sports and governing bodies (e.g. the GAA have a set format for the AGM Agenda as set out in Rule 8.4 of the Club Constitution) but generally speaking across all sports the following areas are covered:
This will be different in an online setting as most online platforms already record attendee details and some systems can produce a report of attendance. To help understand what online platform is best to use, it might be an idea to issue and event invitation and RSVP (e.g. via the Clubforce app) to get an idea of how many people plan to attend your virtual AGM. Attendance can also be confirmed by the executive if the app is used and a record of this is kept in the Clubforce admin panel. Member payment status is also tracked in the Clubforce app, so if the rules stipulate that only fully paid members can vote, the Clubforce app can be used to check this.
As part of the roll call at an online AGM, it might be worth doing a quick sound check as well to ensure that all (or most) attending can hear proceedings.
Review of minutes of previous AGM
Minutes of the previous year’s AGM are usually covered early on in an AGM. Given time constraints of some meeting platforms, these minutes could be sent to attendees in advance of the AGM allowing for more efficient review of this stage of the meeting. This can be sent to members in advance using the Clubforce newsletter function.
The club secretary will report on the previous year’s activities at the club and outline a plan for the year ahead – there is a default report in the Clubforce admin panel which allows the Secretary to demonstrate growth in membership by category, gender etc. which is a useful aid for this section of the meeting.
Annual financial report from the club treasurer
The club treasurer and/or club accountant will produce a set of financial statements for the year and this data can be extracted easily from the Clubforce admin panel for funds generated online during the year.
Election of club officials
Where positions are contested, elections under GAA rules are by secret ballot (according to Rule 9.6 of the Club Constitution). It may be the case that incumbent club officers remain on the executive until an AGM can be held in person but if newly proposed club officials are up for election, it may be possible to hold the vote online. Depending on which online meeting software you use, it may be possible to use the polling function in the AGM to allow attendees to cast a vote anonymously.
Members may want to give their input on club policy and/or Governing Body policy and in an open room this can be done by giving them access to the microphone or inviting them to speak from the top of the room. Online this may be more challenging and it might be an idea to invite members to provide written submissions in advance – although again, it’s difficult to see how all of these would get covered in an effective online meeting. Some meeting software systems include a “hands up” function that allows members to put themselves into a queue to speak but a test run should be done in advance to ensure that functionality works.
Yet again the global pandemic has thrown sport a curve ball and club executives must find a way of dealing with an AGM in a new way. If your club or governing body has any additional recommendations, let us know and we will be happy to share with clubs on the Clubforce platform.