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Open meetings

In reading this post, please keep its age in mind.

Is your board (committee) meeting open? I don’t mean open to the public, although that’s far from unheard of. Open to your members. Never considered it? Can I encourage you then to consider it now?

I think that you should start from the position that, because you represent them, your members have every right to see how you are doing. Transparency, the essential prerequisite to accountability.

The fact that you have nothing to hide – or at least I hope you haven’t! – supports this starting point.

Add to this the benefits of improving communication between the board and the membership, encouraging involvement by the members in the organisation, making needs known (and therefore potentially donations), potentially increasing the number of volunteers, educating people about the operations of a board, and drawing from a larger pool of ideas.

Even after all these benefits, you may still be uncomfortable with opening your meetings. What exactly is the reason for your discomfort? If it is a reason that withstands scrutiny, and there are a couple, then rather than abandoning the idea, why not make an adjustment to your procedure to eliminate the issue? That’s what many, many others have done.

The biggest objection will probably be the need to discuss things that should remain confidential to the board members. What things? Given your starting position – transparency – then I’d go through these one by one and make sure that they are not on the list merely because of tradition that no longer has a place in your organisation, or because of an invalid assumption about the risk of disclosure. And maybe there’s even something that you are discussing that you shouldn’t be discussing, for instance the personal affairs of a member.

The solution for the things that legitimately need to be hidden from the members is the solution that has been available since the beginning of meetings: a closed (in camera) session. All bar board members leave the room while something is discussed by the board. This gives you the best of both worlds.

All other objections can similarly be solved. I mean, if an Anglican parish council, with its connection and responsibility to a higher authority, can do it, I reckon it ought to be at least your starting position.

What do you think?