The Art of Taking Minutes

The Art of Taking Minutes

Have you ever been in a board meeting and looked around to see that no one was taking notes on what was being said in the meeting? Or have you sat down at the beginning of a meeting and heard the question, “So, who’s taking minutes today?” Minutes are incredibly important to any board meeting because they are a concrete record of what was said, what was decided upon, and what was accomplished in the meeting.

Unfortunately, while minutes are essential to any board meeting, the art of taking minutes has sadly fallen by the wayside. Today, it seems that in almost any Board of Directors meeting, someone is chosen at random to take the minutes, though that person may have no experience at all in taking notes on meetings and may not know exactly what needs to be recorded. To help you the next time you’re called upon to take minutes in a board meeting (or any meeting), we’ve created this step-by-step guide to the art of taking minutes.

Understand the Expected Format and Agenda

First, every board records and publishes its minutes differently. While all minutes are basically transcripts of what went on in the meeting, your board may have some specific expectations for the minutes in your meetings. So, if you’re the secretary or you expect to take minutes at the next meeting, ask the president for a copy of the agenda for the meeting. This should include the names of everyone attending, including members, guests, and/or guest speakers.

Take an Accurate Record of the Meeting

In years past, meeting minutes were almost always taken by hand and then transcribed or typed later. Today, you will likely have the freedom to choose whether to write or type your minutes directly into a laptop. Choose whichever form works better for you to take accurate minutes. Those minutes should include, but may not be limited to:

  • Meeting date and time
  • Names of all present, as well as absentee members of the meeting
  • Any amendments and/or corrections to previous meeting minutes
  • Any additions that need to be made to the current meeting’s agenda
  • Motions that are accepted or rejected in the meeting
  • Whether or not a quorum is present at the meeting
  • Actions taken in the meeting and/or agreed upon to take in the future
  • Next steps for those actions
  • Who is responsible for these actions
  • Any items on the agenda to be held over for a later meeting
  • Any new business discussed in the meeting
  • Public participation and/or open discussion
  • The date and time for the next meeting
  • The time the meeting is adjourned

To make life easier for yourself when taking minutes, you may want to make a template that covers the above list and any other important elements that you’ll be expected to include in the minutes when you file and share them after the meeting.

A Few Helpful Hints for Successful Meeting Minutes

In addition to using a template, there are a few simple things you can do to help yourself as you take the minutes in any meeting, even if you weren’t expecting to be in charge of the minutes beforehand:

  • Check off arriving attendees – This makes it easier to record who was in attendance and who was absent.
  • Record all motions, decisions, and actions as they happen during the meeting so that you don’t forget to include them later.
  • Keep your notes clear and brief – You don’t have to write full sentences or quote speakers exactly.

Follow these tips, and you’ll have the basics you need to take the minutes in any meeting you attend. Doing this will not only better prepare you to take notes, but your board or organization will also get more accurate and consistent records of its meetings, as well.

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  1. Many times there are sensitive items, discussions and action taken in a meeting that should not be part of the permanent record. How you handle those types of situations? An example might be an organization that is considering a merge and are still doing due diligence.

    • Shirley, you bring up a good point. Such a discussion should take place during an Executive Session and the regular meeting minutes then indicate that the session took place and list the topic of discussion and any decision made, if applicable. The specifics (such as legal issues, Executive Director’s performance, etc.) may be confidential and appear only in a set of confidential-to-the-board minutes or other notes. A separate recordkeeping system should be established for such confidential information to easily distinguish it from records that members and others would otherwise be entitled to view. Executive Session discussion notes should be shared only with participants and should not be attached to the regular board meeting minutes.

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