Just when congregations figured out how to gather safely online for worship during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as January approaches, a new challenge arises—what about the Annual Congregational Meeting?
The first question that came up was “Is it legal to have an annual meeting online?” The answer is, if your congregation constitution does not specifically state that you must meet in person, then you can meet in other ways, depending upon state law.
Iowa nonprofit corporations are governed by the Revised Iowa Nonprofit Corporation Act (“Iowa Nonprofit Act”), which provides various means by which members and boards of directors are able to take action without holding an in-person meeting, including written ballots, proxies, telephone, email or virtual (such as zoom).
Tips for Running an Annual Meeting on Zoom
Do a live, in-person training about the software well before the first scheduled meeting. That way, people can ask questions and begin to feel they are dealing with something known and familiar.
Not everyone will have a computer with an audio/camera. Clarify that Zoom offers multiple options like calling in, a mobile app from a mobile phone, etc.
When you set up your annual meeting, whether as a Zoom meeting or a webinar, there are a few security settings that you will want to enable to protect your annual meeting from Zoom-bombers and to ensure the smooth running of your annual meeting. You will want to make sure that the annual meeting is both password-protected and that you have the waiting room enabled. This will ensure that only members of your congregation who have the password are able to join your annual meeting, and if anyone does happen upon the Zoom link with the password, your Zoom host can see their name in the waiting room and, based on the name they give, decide whether or not to admit them to the annual meeting.
If you have set your annual meeting up as a Zoom meeting, you should also make sure the settings in the Zoom meeting are set so that the participants’ microphones and cameras are turned off as soon as they enter the meeting. The Zoom meeting host can then monitor the participants and make sure that participants are muted throughout the annual meeting, unless called on to speak, and can remove people from the annual meeting if they behave inappropriately.
Zoom has a raised hand function that allows participants and attendees to raise their hand in both meetings and webinars. If you prefer a dedicated voting system, or a multi-person ballot, you may consider using Google Forms. (https://www.google.com/forms/about/)
Google Forms is a free online survey/form system that would allow you to take a vote on multiple individuals running for office at once. It is easy to setup and use and there are a plethora of tutorials out there (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vR6PDTR9T8A).
Vote by voice. The host can unmute all participants. The moderator will call for all “Ayes,” Nays,” and “Abstentions.” A determination will be made whether it’s too close to call for a count. If so, you can either go with the other options listed here, or go through the roll and unmute each person to tally their Vote with a poll in Zoom. This can work, but it’s tricky. First, every participant would need to have a registered account and not just the standard “guest” account if you want to be able to download or audit the poll results.
Second, if you have more than one member in a household, you would need to find a way for each member to vote. (This can be handled by running an in-meeting Zoom poll with multiple “questions,” the questions being the same, but for different persons in the household.
Zoom has a raised hand function that allows participants and attendees to “raise their hand” in both meetings and webinars. You can have the host monitor the participants and attendees and let the individual running the meeting add the answers to those questions together. More information on Zoom Polling.
You may have members who either are uncomfortable using or do not have access to the internet. There are still ways to be safe and creative.
Parking Lot Meeting-members are invited to park and stay in their vehicles the entire meeting, while listening to the proceedings on their car radios. Another creative element: Voting was done by horn honks—short and quick for “Aye;” long and loud for “Nay.” Or you can have people with masks collect written votes in a basket and handle, keeping the recommended 6-foot distance.
Mail in Ballots – this takes preparation, but Bethany Lutheran in Elkader mailed out information packets along with a devotional reading to all families. They were given time to email or mail questions and then mail in their ballots for proposals.