Annual General Meetings 101
An Annual General Meeting is a vital part of the local party calendar and one of the most important legal duties a local party has to carry out each year. The purpose of an AGM is to allow members to hold the officers, exec and councillors to account for their work during the year and to elect next year’s officers. Your treasurer will present a budget for the next year and might also present draft accounts. It’s also important to appoint an independent examiner (or an auditor for local parties with an income over £250,000 a year) for the annual accounts.
Constitutionally, your AGM should take place in either October or November. In exceptional circumstances, it can take place later in the year, but it must happen in within the year. If you are unable to hold an AGM in October or November, you need to let your state (if in Wales or Scotland), region (if in England) or the Federal Party (if outside Great Britain) know.
AGMs have important business, but they should also be fun and concise.
Nobody wants to sit on a zoom call and listen to someone read out a report for 2 hours - and this guide should hopefully help you make your AGM a great experience for everyone!
Setting a date
The first thing to do is set a date and time for your AGM. You normally need to give members at least 21 working days notice, but we’d recommend trying to give at least 28 (4 weeks) notice.
Most meetings, for practical reasons, end up being in the evenings. However, for some members this can bring its own problems, such as managing childcare, shift work, etc. Is there anything that you can do to make meeting times more accessible, or for anyone who would struggle to make them, is there an alternative way for them to get involved?
You should schedule at least an hour for the AGM and plan for up to 30 minutes of extra time. We’d also recommend following the AGM with a social event where possible - so that members can unwind after the event!
Action: Set a date for your AGM by the 31st October
Choosing your venue
For the 2021 AGM season, whilst we're not expecting social distancing measures to be reimposed, you should still be mindful of those who aren't comfortable being in enclosed spaces with others, who have health issues that mean they may need to be more careful or who have access issues.
Please be aware that while most coronavirus restrictions have disappeared, not all have. People with compromised immune systems are still being asked to avoid anyone who isn’t double vaccinated, and some are still isolating. Also, while it may be comforting for attendees to know if people are vaccinated, in policy terms we have been opposed to vaccine passports, so restricting admission would contradict that. Please be sensible about anything like this.
Some obvious issues present themselves, such as making sure physical meetings take place in a location that is accessible (to people with access needs), but also to people who use public transport or need to be able to park nearby. Have you looked at all of these? It may not be possible to cover every base, but you should try and think it through. It may be the case that you should vary your meeting locations (it doesn’t have to be done every time), so that people can at least attend some meetings.
Don’t always hold meetings in a pub. While it may be very comfortable for some members (and it can be good from a social point of view), it can be off-putting to non-drinkers, or just to people not familiar with the location. Not everyone is comfortable with walking into a pub that they don’t know – give them an alternative.
One idea is choosing venues that represent Liberal values. It is probably not possible for everyone, but if you are looking for venues to hold meetings, have a think about places that do good work and see if they are available. One example mentioned was a centre that supports refugees, where it was possible to rent a room for a meeting. It puts our values (and our money) to practical benefit!
What are you trying to achieve with a meeting?
The prime reason for meetings is to get business done, but quite often, it also is a good way of allowing members to socialise. You should think about both things, and make sure that you allow for both. That might mean separating out the two completely and having social gatherings, but that might not always be an option. Think about the different needs of your members, and try to cover both.
Online versus in person (or hybrid)?
Online meetings can allow people to attend who would struggle for many reasons – not least travel. However, it is important to remember that in person meetings can make it easier for others to attend. Do you have members who are not online? Or who are uncomfortable with speaking online? Some people are just more comfortable talking in person, so there are good reasons for doing that too.
Hybrid meetings have the potential to work for both groups, but even for the best chairs will provide a challenge. It is particularly easy for people who are online to not get a chance to intervene, as it is much easier to notice someone in person who is waving a hand. If you have had any hybrid meetings, please share your tips for what works (and what doesn’t).
Make sure you give people who are uncomfortable with either option a point of contact, so if they are worried about anything they can reach out. It may not get used, but it is good that it is there.
There are loads of tools on the market for this - but the LDHQ team would recommend using either Zoom or Google Meet, as both are really simple and easy to use, even for novices.
We’ve also produced a guide on how to use Zoom in a data protection-friendly way, which you can read here: www.libdems.org.uk/zoom-call-guide
It is also worth noting that for anyone with hearing issues, you should make sure that any online systems support closed captioning, and it is turned on. During the meeting, we noted that the system on Zoom has improved dramatically in recent months (although it still has problems). Google’s systems had been the best when we tried previously.
You’ll want to make sure the Zoom call is set up well in advance of the meeting!
If you're meeting in person, check the Boost Guide for a list of ways to ensure your venue is accessible and be mindful of both ventilation and social distancing within the venue.
Action: Choose how you’re conducting your AGM.
Action: Set up the video call meeting for your AGM.
Action: Book a venue for your AGM, if you're meeting in person.
Create an etiquette
Particularly for online meetings, people don’t necessarily know what the ”rules” are for attendees, so it’s worth spelling them out. Some obvious ones – make time for toilet breaks (particularly for the poor person taking minutes), and try and have fixed times for meetings to finish. Online meetings can run on very easily, so try setting targets for when they are done.
People may have wireless headphones, so they might not be in front of their screens, but they can be fully engaged. Remind people of this, but it’s worth pointing out that it is easier to talk when you can see people’s reactions, so ask them to be on screen if they are happy to.
Be clear about how to ask questions – whether you are using electronic hands, whether there will be specific points at which questions can be asked, and the order in which they will (hopefully) be taken. It is difficult to manage for chairs on screen, so be clear about what you are trying to do, and open about it if it becomes difficult.
Also, and this applies to every meeting – try to avoid jargon, or make sure you explain it. It is very easy to use language that regular attendees are familiar with, which excludes plenty of others. Some examples are “paper candidates”, and “panelling”. If you do find yourself using it, a good tip can be for regular attendees to “ask obvious questions” if they think that someone might not understand but feels uncomfortable asking. “Could you just explain what a paper candidate is for anyone who doesn’t know?" is a great phrase to use.
Setting the agenda
Once you have a date and a venue, you need to set your agenda!
At the end of this section, we’ve included a link to a template AGM Agenda. It’s been produced on google docs and can be edited there, or downloaded and edited with the text editing program of your choice.
But there are certain things that have to be on your agenda no matter what, these are:
- Apologies & minutes of the last AGM
- Reports from Officers, Council Groups and Parliamentarians
- Motions to the AGM
- Nomination or Election of Officers & Executive members
- Appointment of an Independent Examiner
We’d recommend setting a time limit for each item to help keep things moving along. We’d also suggest that it might be best not to conduct the elections via Zoom where possible, and instead run an all member ballot (see the section on Contested Elections for more info).
Template AGM Agenda
The template AGM Agenda can be accessed here: https://www.libdems.org.uk/agm-agenda-template
Action: Set the agenda for your AGM by the 31st October
Once you’ve sorted your AGM’s location and business, you need to invite members to attend!
You need to make sure that every member is notified, so we’d recommend sending an email to people you can contact that way (via your party-approved email tool, either Nationbuilder, Prater Raines or Mailchimp) and a letter to the rest.
If you are using the Model Local Party Constitutions, this is permitted. If you have modified your constitution to require something else, then you need to do that, but we’d recommend updating your constitution, as mostly over email is much more affordable!
Your calling notice needs to include:
- What business the AGM is conducting
- Job descriptions for Officer / Executive roles
- How to nominate yourself for a role
- You can also choose to include a copy of the accounts.
We recommend not including paper copies of these in postal invitations, as that can send the postage costs skyrocketing and isn’t very environmentally friendly. Instead, upload those documents to your website and provide links to them in the letter.
Also, make sure you make a phone number available where someone can call to request hard copies.
It’s also a good idea to ask Members to RSVP if they’d like to attend - and let folk know you’ll be sending papers out in advance to those who do.
You can see an example calling notice here: www.libdems.org.uk/agm-calling-notice
For a postal calling notice, simply put this text on a letterhead! You can find a template local party letterhead here: www.libdems.org.uk/local-party-letterhead
Action: Invite your members to your AGM at least 21 days before the date you set for it
Action: Upload key papers to your website so members can access them
Action: Set up a way for members to RSVP and say they’re attending the AGM
We want our local parties to reflect the communities they serve - that means our executives should have a real balance of people.
A big part of ensuring that is making sure you advertise roles in advance of the AGM. Expecting people to just turn up and put their hand up usually leads to the same old people, doing the same old roles.
We’ve included some information on the roles in the calling notice above, but we’d also encourage you to reach out to folk who might have the skills needed to do these jobs and encourage them to apply.
You can find job descriptions for the roles here: www.libdems.org.uk/agm-job-descriptions
There’s some more advice on improving diversity in the Boost Guide www.libdems.org.uk/boost
You might also want to advertise more than once that you're looking for folk to apply - as not everyone will read the calling notice!
Action: Read the Boost Guide
Action: Plan in a reminder email about the open posts on the executive
Making the event fun
Your AGM doesn’t have to be boring!
I know that seems like a bit of an oxymoron to those of you who have been around a while, but it’s true!
There’s a few ways to make AGMs fun, including:
- Assuming reports have been read and moving straight onto questions
- Keeping things moving along at a good pace
- Keep the event under 90 minutes - ideally an hour!
You could also consider holding a social event before, or after your AGM to allow members who don’t want to take part in the meeting to come to something, or to allow members to wind down afterwards.
Examples of social events you can hold online include quizzes, Q&As with interesting speakers and much more.
You could also consider holding Q&A sessions on the reports separately to the AGM. Especially the reports from MPs and Council Groups could be extremely interesting to members and by giving them time to shine separately, you can give members a really interesting way to feel engaged and like they’ve been able to properly scrutinise people.
In short, there’s loads of ways to make your AGM more manageable and interesting and this year is probably the time to try something new to see if it works!
Holding an online AGM
Once you’re done with all of that and it’s the big day, now you need to actually host your online AGM!
The first thing to do is to make sure you’re on the Zoom well in advance of the start time. At least 15 minutes and ideally 30 minutes before. Anyone else running the event should also be online.
We recommend having at the very least a meeting Chair, an Aide and of course, your Secretary.
The Chair’s role is to actually run the meeting and keep people to the agenda.
The Aide’s role is to ensure the Chair has all the info they need and manage incoming questions.
The Secretary’s role is to ensure there are accurate minutes - and taking minutes on a video call might be harder than you’re used to, so you may want two folk taking minutes just in case!
As members start to arrive, make sure you welcome them and explain how the process is going to work.
At the start time, do one more explanation of the process and then call the meeting to order. This is also a good point to remind people to be on mute if they aren’t talking.
Depending on the size of the meeting, you may also want to advise people to turn off their cameras unless they’re speaking, to ensure people can see the Chair and Speaker clearly.
Then, your AGM proceeds pretty much as a regular one would. Your Chair announces each item and the Aide makes sure the correct papers are posted in the chat.
The Chair invites relevant people to speak to their reports (ideally keep this brief and maximise time for questions!) and makes sure all of the procedures run smoothly.
At the end of the meeting, make sure you thank people for attending.
Action: Identify your Chair, Aide and Secretary
Action: Hold a practice session so you know what to expect
Your first step should be to appoint an independent Returning Officer when you decide the date for your AGM. Your local party can get a list of Returning Officers from your Region, State or LDHQ and they will also be able to recommend one who is happy to run local party elections and has been trained on the software.
In an ideal world, you’ll have had all of your nominations in advance of the meeting, which will allow you to read out the nominees for each position.
Once that’s completed, any that are uncontested, you should announce as elected.
If you’re voting at the AGM
If you're voting at the AGM, you need to move onto statements from candidates for each contested position.
Keep these under 2 minutes total and once all of the candidates have spoken, you can take a vote either by using LDHQ’s software (explained later on) or using the poll functionality in Zoom.
Once you have a result, make sure you announce it and make clear the period for appeals (the appeals period is one calendar month) and how someone can appeal. Repeat this until all posts are filled.
If you’re voting after the AGM
If you’re voting after the AGM, you simply need to explain when ballots will be dispatched and when a result will be known.
Action: Make sure you know how you’re handling voting at the AGM
AGM best practice
Here are a few tips and tricks for running an online AGM successfully
- Don’t allow people to read out their reports. Instead, take them as read and move onto questions (it’s what folk are really here for!)
- Set time limits for people to speak (ie 1 minute for a question) and mute them if they run over.
- Don’t allow questions which are really statements.
- Try and ensure you call on a person from an underrepresented group first when taking questions. This makes it more likely you’ll get a good balance of questioners.
- Don’t try and make one person do it all!
- Make sure you have contingency plans for what happens if your internet goes down.
- Don’t try and pack too much in!
- Hold a practice session before the day so you’re familiar with the process!
General Internal Elections Guidance
Internal elections are a key part of the party and are important for maintaining our democratic processes. There are plenty of committees, on Federal, State and Regional levels, as well as SAOs and AOs, all of which are elected via an internal ballot. It is important that these elections are run smoothly. While all elections are run differently, there are some basic ground rules that when you’re planning an election, you need to adhere to.
These can be found in the Federal Constitution in article 9.6.9.c.
Check your constitution.
Often different organisations have different rules for how long nominations, campaigns, and voting is open for. Make sure that you adhere to these rules in your constitution, so there is no cause to call your election into disrepute.
Check the Federal, State & Regional Constitutions.
The organisation constitution won’t conflict with one, however, there are some rules in the federal constitution, which may not be covered in your organisation’s. This is particularly important with positive discrimination practises – if in doubt, contact someone in the compliance team in LDHQ.
Make sure everything is clear
You will get every question you can imagine when running elections, so it’s always helpful to make sure as you launch the election, you are as clear as possible.
The most important things to be clear on are:
- Job description of the role
- Time commitment expected from the role
- Who can apply for the role?
- When nominations close
- When campaigning starts/stops
- When voting closes
Make sure everything is organised
It can be confusing receiving queries, nominations and concerns all into one inbox. Make sure you have separate inboxes or folders to ensure nothing gets lost.
Negative campaigning is strongly discouraged during internal elections. If you have any concerns over the candidates, for example if they are discouraging or stopping other people from applying/campaigning, make sure the Returning Officer is aware, and if necessary, report it to the standards officer in LDHQ.
After the AGM
After the AGM, there’s a couple of things that you need to do:
- Notify HQ of your new Officers & Executive - you can do this on Lighthouse and instructions can be found here: https://www.libdems.org.uk/lighthouse
- Update your constitution (if you made any changes that have been approved!) and send it to your regional party for safekeeping.
- Make sure each Officer who is stepping down has prepared a handover note for their successor and handed over any necessary files
- Update access to party software - like Connect & Lighthouse and party emails accounts
Actions from this guide:
- Set a date for your AGM by the 31st October
- Choose how you’re conducting your AGM
- Set up the video call for your AGM
- Set the agenda for your AGM by the 31st October
- Appoint a returning officer
- Invite your members to your AGM at least 21 days before the date you set for it
- Upload key papers to your website so members can access them
- Set up a way for members to RSVP and say they’re attending
- Read the Boost Guide
- Plan in a reminder email about the open posts on the executive
- Identify your Chair, Aide and Secretary
- Hold a practice session so you know what to expect
- Make sure you know how you’re handling voting at the AGM
- Contact HQ if you’d like to use Mi-Voice
Other things you might need
Updating your constitution
You might want to update your constitution at your AGM - and that’s great!
Your starting point should be the model local party constitution, there’s a different one for England, Scotland and Wales and if you’re outside of Great Britain, we recommend you use the English version.
English Model Constitution: www.libdems.org.uk/english-model-constitution
Scottish Model Constitution: www.libdems.org.uk/scottish-model-constitution
Welsh Model Constitution: www.libdems.org.uk/welsh-model-constitution
Any changes to your constitution need to be approved by your state (if in Wales or Scotland), region (if in England) or the Federal Party (if outside Great Britain) before they take effect - so make sure you let them know in advance what you’re planning to change!
Local Party Boundaries are important - as they define who is a member of your local party!
Because Boundary changes affect neighbouring local parties as well before a change can happen it must be approved by all local parties affected and your state (if in Wales or Scotland), region (if in England) or the Federal Party (if outside Great Britain) - so make sure you do this before you vote on it at the AGM!
Boundary Changes also require a constitutional amendment to take effect.
A local party can be composed of:
- One or more parliamentary constituencies, or
- One or more principal local authority areas, or
- A combination of all or part of a parliamentary constituency and all or part of an adjacent or overlapping principal local authority area.
No other combinations are allowed.
If you want to check if something is compatible with these rules, please email [email protected] - we can also help in letting you know if there are any knock-on impacts to your proposed changes.
Mergers and de-mergers
Local Parties sometimes decide to combine or break into smaller groups.
To help manage this, we’ve produced a separate guide, which you can view here: www.libdems.org.uk/agm-mergers