Top tips for charities hosting meetings online
A guest blog by Julie Hutchison, co-host of #trusteehour
When Dr Miles Weaver and I started hosting a twitter #trusteehour in 2017, we had no idea of the range of themes we’d cover in the months to come. Trusteehour is a monthly online get together which encourages practice and idea exchange among charity trustees across the UK.
In response to the ‘Stay at Home’ measures associated with Covid-19, in April 2020 we encouraged the sharing of tips for hosting charity meetings online. This blog builds on the piece published by Miles on 29th April which summarised the contributions that evening.
Much has been written about the formal aspects of whether and how online meetings can be valid. The three articles linked in the footnotes cover useful ground here. A charity’s governing document may enable this, it may be silent on this, or it may preclude it. You may need to formally change your governing document if you have a real barrier here. For an online board meeting, trustees still need to focus on collective decision-making, and documenting their decisions. A clear agenda issued in advance will also help to focus discussions.
Trustees should also look at any rules around quorum in the governing document i.e. for the meeting to be valid, what’s the minimum number of trustees who must participate?
The top tip I picked up during #trusteehour was the recommendation to use an ethernet cable for a more stable internet connection. I subsequently bought one and it has certainly made my video calls more reliable.
The online poll during #trusteehour concluded that Zoom was the preferred platform for online meetings, followed by Microsoft Teams and then Facetime. I have used all three, and certainly the appeal of Zoom is the large number of people you can see on–screen. This is the key limiting factor for Microsoft Teams, at four people on–screen (due to increase to nine). This blog from SCVO covers some of the security questions often asked about Zoom.
As part of your planning, you may want to have a technical host in place for your online meeting, to take care of “admitting” those joining, and to deal with any queries from those who are having difficulty joining.
A final tip: if you find seeing yourself on screen is a distraction, you may want to turn-off self-view (while leaving your camera on for others to see you).
There are particular facilitation skills required for chairing an online meeting. Technology may offer you a way to manage contributions, for example the platform you are using might enable an on-screen “hand-up” where someone can signal they wish to comment. It’s important to establish ground rules around how a meeting will run, including the use of mute, and enabling regular breaks. If you are Chair, you will want to consider how to draw in those who are quieter. Online meetings don’t enable you to read body language in the same way you can when you are in a room together.
Video calls enable you to join someone in their own home. Have you given any thought to your own backdrop? Are you comfortable with it? Whether it’s a wall, bookcase, piece of art or something else, it’s part of how you will be seen. I’ve been on some video calls where someone has a pop-up banner beside them – all part of bringing a work vibe to a video call which might be appropriate for you, or not.
Depending on the platform you are using, there may be various ways to contribute to an online meeting. A chat function may enable you to ask questions, or there may be a “thumbs-up” symbol to show agreement or hand-up symbol to signal you wish to speak.
Above all, try to ensure some spacing between video calls to give your eyes and mind a rest. Looking to the future, this technology is not just here to help during lockdown, it’s here to stay. Even when it may be possible to be physically present in an office building again, now that we’ve all had hands-on experience of how convenient online meetings can be for certain things, I’m sure they will remain in the mix for the future. This is particularly true for get togethers involving people who are scattered across the country, or indeed in more than one country. As budgets are squeezed in the period ahead, there’s unlikely to be a rush to return to spending the same time and money formerly involved in travelling to all meetings.
Julie Hutchison is the co-host of #trusteehour along with Dr Miles Weaver of The Business School, Edinburgh Napier University. Julie is also the Charities Specialist at Aberdeen Standard Capital.