Taking good meeting minutes is a must for groups that want to follow governance best practice. But approving the minutes is just as important as taking them in the first place. That’s because minutes aren’t the official record of a group’s business until the group approves them. Until they’ve been approved, minutes are simply the secretary’s version of events.
But how exactly are minutes approved, and what do you do if someone has a correction to the secretary’s draft?
Step 1: Circulate a Draft of the Minutes
Minutes should be reviewed before they are approved, and review happens as the secretary circulates the draft—ideally, ahead of the meeting. Typically, a minutes review happens when the materials for the next meeting (e.g., the agenda, reports, resolutions, etc.) are distributed. This is a natural time for the secretary to share a copy of what took place in the prior meeting. And to avoid confusion, the secretary should include on the document some indication that these notes are a draft.
So, concerning the timing of all this—best practice is to stay current on approving minutes. In other words, in general, at each meeting you should be approving the minutes from the last meeting. Collecting a batch of minutes from various meetings for approval at a later date generally doesn’t serve anyone’s memory well and tends to raise questions as to whether anyone is actually keeping an accurate record of the group’s business or instead trying to re-create what happened after the fact.
Two notes here: (1) If your meeting is a special meeting, there’s no need to approve the minutes of the previous regular meeting at the special meeting. Wait to approve those regular meeting minutes at the next regular meeting. As for approving the special meeting minutes, you can do that at the next regular meeting, too. (2) This post outlines minutes approval for groups that meet regularly throughout the year—boards and committees, for example. But minutes for groups that meet less often—with annual meetings or conventions—can be handled a bit differently.
Step 2: Ask Members for Any Corrections to the Minutes
Approval of previous meeting minutes is typically an item placed at the beginning of an agenda. When it’s time for the approve-the-minutes agenda item….
- There’s no need to read the minutes as long as they have been distributed ahead of time.
- If they haven’t been shared ahead of the meeting, then it’s appropriate to briefly pause and give members time to review what they are being asked to approve.
- Even if the minutes have been distributed ahead of the meeting, anyone can request that the minutes be read out loud to the group. (Pro Tip: If this happens at a meeting you’re attending, consider it your cue to get a second donut from the breakfast buffet or finish your Wordle game.)
Then, once members have been given sufficient opportunity to know what’s in the minutes, the Chair should ask this one question in order to approve the minutes: “Are there any corrections to the minutes?” The Chair should pause for three to five seconds to see if anyone responds, and if not, say, “Since there are no corrections, the minutes are approved as distributed.”
Now, I’ve observed some common missteps in the land of minutes approval. Don’t ask either of the following questions or variations of them:
- Is there any objection to approving the minutes as distributed?
- Is there a motion to approve the minutes?
The reason that you shouldn’t ask these questions is because they imply that the draft minutes are a motion or item of business that can be discussed, and therefore, can be defeated or not approved. But there’s nothing about the minutes of a meeting that merits a discussion of pros and cons. The only way to “not approve” the draft minutes is to correct them—keep reading for the how-to on that!
And, sorry, but a group can’t decline to approve the minutes to “undo” what happened at the meeting where the minutes were taken. No—what happened at the meeting happened, and the minutes are the official record of what went on. The approval process simply makes sure the record is accurate. If the group wants to change what happened at the meeting, that’s a different parliamentary procedure altogether.
Step 3: Make Any Corrections Requested
If a member responds to the Chair’s question (“Are there any corrections to the minutes?”) with a correction, then the Chair should restate the correction requested so that everyone can hear it and then ask if there are any objections to making that correction. If someone objects, this is when the motion process happens: the Chair should follow the normal steps for processing a motion, ask if there is any discussion on the correction, and then take a vote on whether to make the correction.
If this seems like an odd set of events to you, just know that while most of the time corrections to the minutes fall in the typo category, substantive corrections can happen. And if a topic was contentious when it was introduced, the way the minutes describe what happened in that prior meeting on that topic may be a point of contention, too.
Of course, none of this means that a member can put anything in the minutes that he wants and call it a “correction.” Minutes are only a record of what was actually done, not a record of what was said, what someone wishes had been said, or everything that happened in between the call to order and adjournment.
If you’re a secretary, remember that timeliness is important in approving your draft of the minutes—before you and everyone else forget what occurred in that last meeting. And if you’re the Chair, make sure you ask that one simple question to streamline minutes approval.