How To Write Effective Meeting Minutes


About This Guide

This article was prepared by Wild Apricot to help the volunteers and/or staff of small non-profits and membership organizations who may be new to the task of taking and preparing meeting minutes for committees or Boards of Directors.

Please note that since the format, style and content requirements for meeting minutes varies depending on the organization and the type of committee or Board, this article offers only general guidelines to help get you started.

Are you new to writing meeting minutes?

Whether you’ve been tasked with taking notes for a committee or you’ve been appointed Secretary to the Board of your organization, preparing meeting minutes doesn’t have to be an arduous task. Here are some tips and ideas that will help you get started with writing and preparing effective meeting minutes.


Why meeting minutes are important

You shouldn’t be intimidated by the term “minutes” since it’s actually a little misleading. After all, your committee or Board doesn’t want or need a record of its meeting proceedings minute by minute!  But it is important to capture the essence of the meeting, including details such as: 

  • decisions made (motions made, votes, etc.) 
  • next steps planned
  • identification and tracking of action items

Minutes are a tangible record of the meeting for its participants and a source of information for members who were unable to attend. In some cases, meeting minutes can act as a reference point, for example:

  • when a meeting’s outcomes impact other collaborative activities or projects within the organization
  • minutes can serve to notify (or remind) individuals of tasks assigned to them and/or timelines

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What’s involved with meeting minutes?

There are essentially five steps involved with meeting minutes:

  1. Pre-Planning
  2. Record taking - at the meeting
  3. Minutes writing or transcribing
  4. Distributing or sharing of meeting minutes
  5. Filing or storage of minutes for future reference

1. Pre-planning:

A well-planned meeting helps ensure effective meeting minutes.  If the Chair and the Secretary or minutes-taker work together to ensure the agenda and meeting are well thought out, it makes minute taking much easier. For example, depending on the meeting structure and the tools you use (see Tools below), the minutes-taker could work with the Chair to create a document format that works as an agenda and minutes outline as well – here’s are some examples.

Minutes Outline

Meeting agenda = outline:

At the very least, it’s important to get a copy of the meeting agenda and use it as a guide or outline for taking notes and preparing the minutes – with the order and numbering of items on the minutes matching those of the agenda. In addition, the agenda and/or meeting notice also provides information that will need to be included in the minutes, such as:

  • the names of all the meeting attendees, including guests or speakers
  • documents that are sent out with the agenda or handed out in the meeting – copies (digital or hard copy) of  handouts should be stored with the meeting minutes for future reference and for sharing with those who were unable to attend the meeting (and others as determined by the meeting’s Chair).

Clarifying Expectations:

When you take on a new role as minutes-taker or Secretary, be sure to ask the Chair of the committee or Board what their expectations are of your role during the meeting, as well as the type of detail he/she expects in the minutes.  For example, if your Board or committee will be dealing with motions, or voting on items/issues, be clear on whether you need to offer names of those making motions, seconding, etc. If you will be dealing with this type of procedures, you (and your Chair) may want to refer to Robert’s Rules of Order – here’s a link to an online “Introduction to Robert’s Rules”.

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2. Record taking - what should be included?

Before you start taking notes, it’s important to understand the type of information you need to record at the meeting. As noted earlier, your organization may have required content and a specific format that you’ll need to follow, but generally, meeting minutes usually include the following:

  • Date and time of the meeting
  • Names of the meeting participants and those unable to attend (e.g., “regrets”)
  • Acceptance or corrections/amendments to previous meeting minutes
  • Decisions made about each agenda item, for example:
    • Actions taken or agreed to be taken
    • Next steps
    • Voting outcomes – e.g., (if necessary, details regarding who made motions; who seconded and approved or via show of hands, etc.)
    • Motions taken or rejected
    • Items to be held over
    • New business
    • Next meeting date and time

Tips that might help your note taking:

  • Create an outline – as discussed earlier, having an outline (or template) based on the agenda makes it easy for you to simply jot down notes, decisions, etc. under each item as you go along. If you are taking notes by hand, consider including space below each item on your outline for your hand-written notes, then print these out and use this to capture minutes.
  • Check-off attendees as they enter the room - if you know the meeting attendees, you can check them off as they arrive, if not have folks introduce themselves at the start of the meeting or circulate an attendance list they can check-off themselves.
  • Record decisions or notes on action items in your outline as soon as they occur to be sure they are recorded accurately
  • Ask for clarification if necessary – for example, if the group moves on without making a decision or an obvious conclusion, ask for clarification of the decision and/or next steps involved.
  • Don’t try to capture it all – you can’t keep up if you try to write down the conversation verbatim, so be sure to simply (and clearly) write (or type) just the decisions, assignments, action steps, etc.
  • Record it – literally, if you are concerned about being able to keep up with note taking, consider recording the meeting (e.g., on your smart phone, iPad, recording device, etc.) but be sure to let participants know they are being recording. While you don’t want to use the recording to create a word-for-word transcript of the meeting, the recording can come in handy if you need clarification.

3. The Minutes Writing Process

Once the meeting is over, it’s time to pull together your notes and write the minutes. Here are some tips that might help:

  • Try to write the minutes as soon after the meeting as possible while everything is fresh in your mind.
  • Review your outline and if necessary, add additional notes or clarify points raised. Also check to ensure all decisions, actions and motions are clearly noted.
  • Check for sufficient detail: For Board of Director’s minutes, an Association Trends article (by lawyers Jefferson C. Glassie and Dorothy Deng) suggests the following for Board minutes:
    • include a short statement of each action taken by the board and a brief explanation of the rationale for the decision
    • when there is extensive deliberation before passing a motion, summarize the major arguments
  • Edit to ensure brevity and clarity, so the minutes are easy to read
  • What NOT TO INCLUDE: EffectiveMeetings.com offers some these tips from the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP):

    • Be objective.
    • Write in the same tense throughout
    • Avoid using people’s names except for motions or seconds. This is a business document, not about who said what.
    • Avoid inflammatory or personal observations. The fewer adjectives or adverbs you use, the better.
    • If you need to refer to other documents, attach them in an appendix or indicate where they may be found. Don’t rewrite their intent or try to summarize them.

Want to see sample Board meeting minutes?

This post – Basic Sample of Board of Directors Meeting Minutes – in the Free Management Library – offers a typical format and content of board meeting minutes.

4. Distributing or Sharing Meeting Minutes

As the official “minutes-taker” or Secretary, your role may include dissemination of the minutes. However, before you share these, be sure that the Chair has reviewed and either revised and/or approved the minutes for circulation.

Online sharing

The method of sharing or distribution will depend on the tools that you and your organization use. Since minutes and other documentation can create a pile of paper, it’s great if you can use a paperless sharing process. For example, if you are using a word processing tool (e.g., Microsoft Word) that doesn’t offer online sharing, you might want to create a PDF of the document and send this and the other attachments or meeting documentation via email. Alternately, if you are all using Google docs – for meeting invitations, agenda and additional document sharing – you can simply “share” the document with that group once it has been finalized. Committee or Board members can simply read the documents online and save a few trees!

Sharing in the Cloud?

If your organization is using a cloud-based membership management system (like Wild Apricot), you can publish the minutes as a web page and give access only to the committee or Board members, depending on your organization’s needs. Through members-only webpages, you can create a secure online Intranet for your Board and committees.

Tools Specifically For Meeting Minutes:

If you are wondering about the types of tools you might use specifically for meeting minutes, here are some tools that we found outlined on Quora:

  • Google Docs - Also supports collaborative note taking. [There are sample templates for minutes in Google docs.  If you send out a meeting request using Google Calendar, you can attach a Google doc agenda outline. Once minutes are crafted (using the outline), you can simply share the document with the group (using their email addresses.]
  • OneNote (if you are a Microsoft user) - Very fast allows for organization of notes.  Also support audio recording with corresponding note time-stamping
  • Evernote - Great note taking tool
  • Meeting Mix - Pretty good all in one tool, also support agenda sharing 
  • Textpad / TextMate - Fast, light weight, non-intrusive, requires that you manage your notes in txt files or export to another collaborative environment.
  • Agreedo: supports creation of meeting minutes and tracking the results.

In addition, here’s a post from Lifehacker that outlines Five Best Meeting Minutes Services.

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5. Filing/Storage of Meeting Minutes

Most committees and Boards review and either approve or amend the minutes at the beginning of the subsequent meeting. Once you’ve made any required revisions, the minutes will then need to be stored for future reference.  Some organizations may store these online (e.g., in Google docs or SkyDrive) and also back these up on an external hard drive.  You may also need to print and store hard copies as well or provide these to a staff member or Chair for filing.

In closing…enjoy your new role

Meeting minutes are important – “they capture the essential information of a meeting.” But taking and preparing minutes doesn’t have to be a daunting task. We hope this article helps meeting minutes newbies in getting started in creating effective meeting minutes for your organization. For additional information, you can check out some of the sources of information we used to create this article in the “sources” noted below.

Sources:

While the author has personal experience writing meeting minutes, we also referred to the following sources to create this article:

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 How To Write Effective Meeting Minutes by Wild Apricot is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at www.wildapricot.com.

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