In a year where nothing has gone according to plan, sailing clubs are now entering the winter season with a whole new challenge how to run their Annual General Meeting under the current covid restrictions but still within their constitutional obligations.
During a recent RYA Club Development video, Mandy Peters, RYA Legal Manager, advised that the first thing to do is to check through your club's governing documents its Constitution or Articles of Association. If there is a provision that says the club shall hold an AGM, read on! (If there isn't any mention of AGMs, you don't have to hold one.)
Also featured on that Club Development video is Ian Brown from Delph Sailing Club (DSC), whose virtual AGM was right at the beginning of lockdown in March. Particularly encouraging for others currently grappling with this issue is that they identified ElectionBuddy, a software package that made virtual meeting and voting so efficient that it resulted in the club's highest-ever engagement rate for a meeting. In fact, it was so successful that they'll be using it for all proxy voting in future, even after restrictions have been lifted and they're not the only club to be planning changes to their AGM processes in the future.
Rutland Sailing Club (RSC) was due to have its AGM at the end of March, and papers had been sent out, when lockdown forced them to postpone it with just seven days to go. Council member Richard Triffitt explains: "We scheduled our virtual AGM for 18 October and decided to use Zoom because it's become the most commonly-used video communications tool. We initially wanted to avoid the need for any votes, to keep things as simple as possible. However, in the end we needed to have a vote for one position. We put this on the screen with the choice select one from the list and held yes/no polls to agree reports, all of which we could handle via Zoom. The number of nominations for Council did not exceed the number of vacancies, so no more complex voting was required."
Some members haven't been able to sail for over six months, so we weren't sure what the mood of the membership would be when giving feedback online at this first opportunity for open discussion. We prepared for all eventualities, but actually it all went very well.
We ended up with 50 to 60 people on Zoom, and the onscreen vote worked well. As there had been an open invitation to all members, rather than pre-registering, we took screenshots of every attendee, insisting that all participants renamed themselves appropriately so that we could check against the membership database that all voters were legitimate.
The only issues were to do with the control of muting and unmuting of people, where things got a bit clunky as each speaker had also to unmute themselves. Also, there was a learning point with regard to the hosts; we wanted at least two in one room to ensure legal compliance, verification and an independent check of the process, but in fact had four, socially-distanced the Commodore, Treasurer, RSC Manager and IT host. Because Zoom only allows one live speaker and audio in a room at a time, the others had no sound in or out, so sharing a microphone resulted in poor sound output. Next time we'd stick to just two in one room.
Fareham Sailing & Motorboat Club (FSMC) had been planning a hybrid AGM for 15 November, with the socially-distanced committee sharing a computer and a large screen in the clubhouse and the majority of members attending via Zoom, voting online after the event. Hon Sec Richard Payne describes how they organised and tested this approach: "We've had positive experience of members using Zoom during lockdown, including open mic nights and other events, but if members still wanted to attend physically for whatever reason, we were going to offer 15 socially-distanced places in the clubhouse."
However, on 31 October, the government announced a second lockdown and the club has decided to make the entire event virtual: "The plan is to have the normal presentations of reports, and some discussion of motions, and then all the voting online afterwards, using our Sailing Club Manager software, which recently added a polling function. Voting will be done via one single survey, open to all eligible members whether they attended the Zoom meeting part or not, during a 48-hour window. We tested this method with a recent survey of members about how we should spend some government funding, so I know it's going to work. This also saves the annual rigmarole of proxy voting online voting means that no proxies are necessary."
It seems there are several other added bonuses to online AGMs. Both RSC and FSMC have reported that the time investment in setting up their AGMS was probably less than usual, and the online option is far more equitable. Richard Triffitt at Rutland said: "It was much fairer. Looking back, it was much as though everyone was in the same room, and we were open and available to all. We'll try and do the same again in future if necessary, we would have votes by ElectionBuddy because it simplifies everything, and a hybrid meeting if we can manage audio and camera. We've had a lot of feedback that this is the way to go, especially for people who have a long way to travel.
Richard Payne at Fareham agrees that it's taken less time to organise - with no sandwiches and seating to sort out! He anticipates a better engagement and higher turnout than in the past, as well as several other advantages: "We'll get an attendance record from Zoom, so we don't need to get everyone to sign in. This process has cleaned the data up a bit too. For example, joint members who have shared a login on Sailing Club Manager have had to sort that out, which will be good for future events."
Everyone agrees that the whole world is going to change after covid, but the experience of these clubs suggests that for AGMs, at least, the future looks bright!