How to score a home run with your board meeting minutes

Steve Hochstetter, CPA/ABV®, CFF™, CVA, Audit Partner,

  Filed under: News and Tax Blog, Not-for-Profit Newsletter

Minutes of your board’s meetings may seem like a mere formality, but they’re much more than that. Board meeting minutes reflect on your board of directors and your organization’s actions. Savvy nonprofits don’t bunt their way through creating these documents — they try to hit them “out of the park.” 

Here are some best practices for developing minutes that will document your meetings clearly and accurately.

Covering the basics

Meeting minutes should cover such fundamentals as the date and time, whether it was a special or regular meeting, and the names of directors attending as well as names of directors who didn’t attend. The minutes should record any board actions (such as motions, votes for and against and resolutions). They also should note whether a quorum was reached, whether any board members left and re-entered the meeting — say, in the case of a possible conflict of interest — and whether there were any abstentions from voting or discussions.

Additionally, minutes should include summaries of key points from reports to the board and of alternatives considered for important decisions. For instance, describe how the board evaluated bids for outsourcing IT work or chose a particular venue for a fundraising event. Another important component: The minutes should record action items — that is, follow-up work that will be needed — and who’ll be responsible. Last, all information in the minutes should be presented clearly and succinctly. 

There’s no particular requirement about how much detail should be recorded in your minutes. But attorneys often advise their clients to include enough information so that they can be offered as evidence that an action was properly taken and that directors fulfilled their fiduciary duties. When in doubt about the depth of detail to include in your minutes, consult your attorney.

Meeting privately

At times, your board likely will meet “behind closed doors” to discuss particularly sensitive or confidential issues, such as a staff dismissal or key person salaries. Details of these sessions shouldn’t be included in the board meeting minutes, although a notation should be made that the board moved to an executive session; the notation should provide the general topic of the conversation. Also be aware of your state’s Sunshine Laws that may require open meetings and outline exactly what must be documented. 

Details of an executive session can be communicated confidentially in some other form. Nonprofit attorneys sometimes advise their clients not to label this communication as “minutes.”  

Generally, your minutes should be ready for inspection by the next board meeting or within 60 days of the date of the original meeting, whichever comes first. IRS Form 990 asks whether there is “contemporaneous,” or timely, documentation of the board and board committee meetings in minutes or written actions. 

Understanding multiple uses 

If your organization is ever audited by the IRS, your meeting minutes likely are among the first documents the agency will request to see. Keep in mind that any attachments, exhibits and reports can be considered part of the minutes.

Meeting minutes also can serve as evidence in court. For example, if someone alleges that the board made a hasty decision in cutting a program, board meeting minutes can be used to present the data that was considered when making that decision.

Considering readability

Many not-for-profits today strive for transparency. But your board isn’t being open about its transactions if its meeting minutes are so abbreviated that only the keenest insider can understand the full meaning. 

The person assigned to take minutes at your organization’s board meetings should produce minutes that are a straightforward and complete report of all actions taken and the basis for any decisions. Simple and unambiguous wording works best.

With that goal in mind, it’s a good idea to have a second person review the meeting minutes. That person (as well as the original writer) should ask, “Would this report make sense if I hadn’t been at the meeting, and had been unfamiliar with the issues addressed? Would I be able to see at a glance the information provided and decisions made?” 

Holding up under inspection

Always keep in mind that the minutes of your board’s meetings can be viewed by many sets of eyes. Make sure that they show the real score. 

 

Steve Hochstetter, CPA/ABV®, CFF™, CVA, Audit Partner
Steve has been in public accounting since 1983, with significant experience serving not-for-profit organizations, healthcare organizations, small and emerging businesses. Learn more about Steve here.