Meeting with Purpose

Annual General Meetings (AGM’s) are a staple of the nonprofit world, even if they tend to be somewhat dry affairs – and I’m being charitable in that description! Once a year we come together, shuffle our way through reports, endure calls for more dollars, volunteers, and board members, pass motions, quibble over figures in the audited financials, vote in a slate of directors, and finally approve the blessed motion to adjourn until next year.

A board that I sit on had its AGM last night, which I duly attended. It started by hewing to the time-established formula: a welcome from our president, approval of the agenda, reports from the auditor, and acceptance of our financial statements. Then our executive director took the stage. He’s always a great storyteller, especially when he has the opportunity to share his enthusiasm for our organization and the cause, but last night he was firing on all cylinders. Slides of numbers and charts, guaranteed to be an enthusiasm-killer in less-skilled hands, came alive. He effortlessly weaved together stories of our past challenges, recent accomplishments, and future dreams and aspirations. His words went beyond our four walls and programs to encompass our place in the community, both what it had been and what it could be. I don’t know what others thought about his spiel, but I know that it made me feel a bit of pride – pride in our accomplishments, pride in the (small) contributions I had made so far in my year as a board member – and excitement for what would be to come for our organization.

AGM’s, at their best, can be an opportunity to engage community members and stakeholders, provide oversight and accountability, and demonstrate the relevancy of programs and services. At their core, these meetings are a time to share: share data points and insights (good and bad!) about the year that has passed, share stories of success and adversity, share hopes and visions. Done well, they can inspire, energize, and open the door for future partnerships and opportunities. Next time you’re involved with planning an AGM, whether as a board member or staff, take a minute to think what the purpose of the event will be, beyond fulfilling legal requirements for another year. What can you do to make staff, volunteers, board members, and community members walk away with an extra spring in their step, hopeful and excited for the next year? What’s the narrative that you hope they’ll take away and share with their friends and colleagues? Will they understand the organization’s vision and what it will need to succeed?

Taking this approach doesn’t require a lot of extra work: just a slight shift in mindset away from the AGM as a chore and towards AGM as an opportunity.