Adopted meeting minutes are the official record of actions taken at a meeting. As a result, well-written minutes can be invaluable. In the event of a dispute, minutes are the best proof of whether a proposal was adopted or the exact wording of a motion.
State statutes and governing documents can, but usually don’t, address what must be in meeting minutes (a few statutes regulate the minutes of governmental bodies and condos/HOA’s). Even without such guidance, if you follow Robert’s Rules of Order, you’re in luck. The current edition, Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, gives excellent advice on minutes.
The short version is this: minutes are a record of what was done at a meeting, not what was said. There is no need to summarize debate. Once a meeting ends, we really don’t care what members said. We don’t even need to know how each member felt about a specific motion. What we need is the exact wording of each proposal and whether it was adopted or rejected.
What Should Be in Meeting Minutes?
According to Robert’s Rules of Order, minutes generally include:
- A first paragraph stating the type of meeting; name of the organization; date, time and location of the meeting; whether the president and secretary were present (some groups list all members present); and whether the prior minutes were read and approved.
- A separate paragraph for each main motion/proposal, including final wording and disposition. (FYI, names of makers of main motions should be entered in the minutes, but not the names of seconders, unless ordered by the assembly).
- A final paragraph that states the time of adjournment.
Following this format, minutes tend to be pretty short. As I note in Robert’s Rules of Order Fast Track, the minutes of a two-hour meeting may fit on a single page!
Can a board or membership group include other information in its meeting minutes? Absolutely! Just recognize that a word-by-word reenactment of a meeting really isn’t minutes, but a verbatim transcript. Minutes are supposed to be a short, to-the-point account of business transacted so that readers can quickly determine what was done. The ultimate decider of what should and should not be in minutes is the body as a whole. Draft minutes don’t become official minutes until voted on (or even changed) at the following meeting.
If you are the keeper of the minutes, here are two suggestions. Minutes are fairly formulaic. That is, for a specific organization, the minutes will look pretty similar from meeting to meeting. As a result, you can prepare a meeting minutes template in advance that you can use to record the minutes, which will save you time!
In fact, why wait until the meeting to prepare the minutes? Skeletal minutes are prepared in advance based on the agenda. Go ahead and fill out all the information in the minutes in advance, and then at the meeting simply note what happens to each motion and add any unexpected items. I’ve seen secretaries use this technique to complete the minutes of a meeting within seconds of the meeting ending.
(For more information on meeting minutes, skeletal minutes, and a meeting minutes template, see the “Meeting Minutes” chapter of Robert’s Rules of Order Fast Track or visit www.jimslaughter.com for free charts and articles on Robert’s Rules and meeting minutes and sample meeting minutes forms.)