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~July 2002~
  • The Secretary of the Board


Most community boards elect or appoint one member to be the secretary of the group. That means that this person writes the minutes of the board meetings. This is not an easy job. The secretary has to be a careful listener so that no important actions of the board go unrecorded. But the secretary is also a board member and needs to contribute to the conversation; so the secretary must be able to listen, write and talk and have the ability to shift gears quickly.

The most frequent error of secretaries is an urge to record everything that is said at the meeting; but that is not necessary. The minutes need to be a legal and historic record of decisions and actions, not of the discussions that led to them; or to quote Robert's Rules of Order, 5th edition, what is done not what is said. Below are some hints that can help simplify the job.


  • A title that includes the date of the meeting, the name of the organization and the place the meeting was held.
  • A first line that indicates the time the meeting was called to order by the elected head of the organization (the President or occasionally the Vice President in the President's absence).
  • A list of the names of those present at the meeting, followed by a list of those not present.
  • Subsequent sections can follow the form of the agenda.

  • REVIEW OF THE MINUTES OF THE LAST MEETING: The previous meeting's minutes are either approved by the Board as submitted or as amended at the meeting. If they are amended (i.e. an error or omission is found), the language of the amendment(s) must be included in the minutes.
  • COMMITTEE REPORTS: It is helpful for many reasons if committees submit written reports in advance. These can then be referred to as attachments to the minutes and only motions passed as a result of the committee report need to be recorded. Unless there is a motion, committee reports need not be approved.
  • MOTIONS: When a motion is made, the name of the person making the motion is included in the minutes, followed by the wording of the motion. Some boards use motion forms and ask the mover of the motion to write one out and give it to the secretary. This can be a helpful device. Also, it is helpful if motions recorded in the minutes are in bold face so that they are easily seen.
    • Any amendments to the motion are handled the same way, and amendments in the order moved are voted on before the motion itself.
    • Motions that are withdrawn are not included in the minutes.
    • It isn't necessary to paraphrase all the debate that goes into the discussion before a motion is voted on unless someone expressly asks that the minutes show his/her comments. This usually happens when someone senses he/she is in a minority and wants to record his/her disagreement.
    • If someone on the board declares he/she has a conflict of interest in the issue at hand and can neither discuss nor vote on the issue, that name should also be shown in the minutes so that everyone reading the minutes understands that the conflict was declared.
    • When the motion is voted on, the minutes state the decision: "The motion carried" or "The motion was defeated." Abstentions from voting are only recorded when the abstainer requests it.
  • ASSIGNMENTS, PLANS, APPOINTMENTS: The minutes should record assignments made to board members and/or staff during the meeting, plans that are made and any new members appointed to committees. If a board member is to be appointed to serve until the next election of members because someone has left the board, this requires a motion and a vote on the part of the board.
  • The minutes would then list any old or new business discussed that was not specifically mentioned in the agenda and any decisions made pertaining to them. Then the minutes should list the date, time and place of the next meeting and the time the meeting was adjourned.
  • Secretaries usually sign the minutes with the complimentary close of "respectfully submitted," (name of secretary).

And all respect to the secretary who can clearly differentiate between what was done at the meeting and what was said!

Jeanne H. Bradner

Jeanne H. Bradner is an author, consultant, trainer and speaker on volunteerism, board development and leadership. She is the author of three publications, Passionate Volunteerism, The Board Member's Guide, A Beneficial Bestiary and Leading Volunteers for Results: Building Communities Today. She served as director of the Illinois Governor's Office of Voluntary Action, Midwest Regional Director of ACTION, and Executive Director of the Illinois Commission on Community Service. She is the volunteer program specialist for Illinois' Harper College Volunteer Management curriculum.

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Copyright 2002 by Nancy Macduff.

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