When the BC government first came out to say that AGM’s could be postponed until as late as mid-November, it seemed there was a collective sigh of relief amongst many credit unions. For some credit unions it was business as usual because they’d been holding hybrid meetings for a number of years. Some were not in a position to go ahead because their rules prevented holding a hybrid or online meeting. Others were hoping they could go ahead with a hybrid or fully online AGM for a number of very practical reasons. Some credit unions who have never held an online AGM have gone ahead for the first time, while others are about to do so.
When I heard about the recent decision (in BC) to allow credit unions to hold an online or hybrid AGM, regardless of their existing rules, I thought I’d offer the following tips for holding one. Some credit unions are still determining whether or not they should proceed with an online or hybrid AGM. For those of you, I offer the following tips for your consideration.
Bold Disclaimer: I am not an expert in governance. Please check with your own internal expert or your provincial regulator to determine what’s required from a regulatory standpoint.
- Engage your members early. Sending an announcement about the upcoming AGM with sufficient timing to meet regulatory requirements should be the bare minimum of communication. Actively engaging your members well in advance can have many additional benefits in terms of increasing member loyalty, etc. Please consider including a short video announcement from your Board Chair and/or CEO to introduce your new AGM format. People will tend to watch a short, engaging video way more readily than reading text for a couple of minutes. It is also a great way to develop a bit of rapport with members you have never had the opportunity to meet face-to-face.
- Prepare your members for successful participation. Ensure they understand the technology they’re going to use. In some cases, providing a video that explains how to use your chosen technology can be very helpful. Some short instructional videos are available on YouTube; or you can create your own using screen capture software such as Camtasia, Screenflow, Loom, etc. The approach you take depends on the technical resources you have available, time, and the software you will be using for your AGM. Depending on what you believe to be the technological sophistication of your members, you may wish to create a hotline to help your members get familiar and comfortable with whatever system you’re using—I bet your young leaders would be awesome resources to help out in this way.
- Ensure there are a variety of ways for members to have their questions asked. This means knowing your technology and determining how far in advance you want to be gathering your members’ questions. Do you wish to have them provided before the meeting, or wait until the AGM to have them raised? For example, in every AGM I’ve attended over the years, financials are provided at the actual physical AGM. That may meet regulatory requirements; however, it doesn’t really allow people sufficient time to review them and come up with intelligent questions to ask at the meeting. Sure, this saves time at the AGM; however, in an age of transparency and accountability perhaps there is a better approach to ensuring questions (of any sort) can be asked. Not too many people are willing to publicly display what could be judged as incompetence by asking what might be perceived as a naïve question. Online questions may overcome this resistance to ask the questions that are actually on the average member’s mind. REMINDER: I realize there may be regulations that currently prevent what I’m suggesting—I believe I mentioned governance is not one of my areas of expertise!
- Use your online AGM as an opportunity to add value to your members. Some credit unions seem to measure the success of their AGM by brevity and the lack of controversy. Others use them as an opportunity to add value beyond simply ticking the boxes required from a regulatory perspective. Consider sharing community success stories, educating the members on issues that might be of general interest such as cybersecurity, financial health, etc. NOTE: There is a greater likelihood they will be interested in those “extra features” if they happen to have a comforting beverage of their choice close at hand while they participate from the comfort of their homes!
- Do a thorough dry run. Don’t take it for granted that because everyone who is presenting “knows their part” and has used the technology before, that everything will go seamlessly in the midst of an AGM. The AGM is not a time to be trying things for the first time such as ad libing, screen sharing, handing off from one presenter to another, etc. TAKE THE TIME TO REHEARSE COMPLETELY!
- Use a trusted and proven vendor for your voting. There are many providers out there who claim they have effective voting technologies. Please investigate them thoroughly. Have they provided technology for AGMs in the past? Can they prove all data is secure? Do they have expert technicians available at the time of your AGM if required? You may wish to determine which other credit unions have used a particular vendor and what their experience was like. Asking after your AGM may be interesting, but not particularly useful!
- Ensure you have capable and competent co-hosts to manage the technology and member interaction. Depending upon the technology you plan to use, I highly recommended that you have a competent co-host (or co-hosts) to help manage the comments, chat line, questions, and any technology issues that may come up. Once again, a dry run is particularly advised.
- Ensure your A/V is awesome! Make sure the lighting on your speakers is excellent, and that your audio is exceptional. Your members will be more forgiving if the video is not studio quality; however, poor audio is inexcusable (which also means NO background noise)!
- Find/create/discover other ways to keep your AGM attendees engaged. There are a wide variety of ways to do so using online polls, music, videos, etc. NOT TO BE CUTE, but to engage your members in a way that is interesting and adds value to their participation.
- Solicit tips from someone who has already done an online AGM. There seems to be a lot of reinventing of the wheel in the credit union system (my opinion only, not based on research). Ask around to see who else has run a hybrid or online AGM-your regulator is likely to have a list of them. Offer chocolate or some other appropriate incentive for their CEO or Governance specialist to have a chat with you to share tips, recommendations, learning, etc.