The Basics: The chair, secretary, treasurer explained

The general rule is that committee members should meet monthly, while general meetings that are open to the general membership are normally held once a quarter.

The Annual General Meeting (AGM), which can double-up as one of those quarterly general meetings, is held once a year.

Always have an agenda and set a fixed meeting duration (e.g. 1½ hours).  Always start on time. Always end on time. 

In all instances, make sure the agenda is shared prior to the meeting, as specified in your Constitution.

To become effective, you need to maintain good record-keeping from minutes to invoices. Using a cloud storage facility is recommended. It does mean some people need to dedicate a little extra time to getting the administration right but it will pay off in the long run.

Record-keeping helps build an association culture and longevity.

Lastly, and this is important, make sure multiple committee members have access to the general email account and cloud storage. You want to avoid a situation where all the institutional memory sits with one person.

In short, besides being the cheerleaders for your association the members must:

  • Be decision-makers.
  • Help out if and when they can.
  • Follow up on any items that you have committed to do at meetings.
  • Further the stated aims of the association’s constitution.

The Chairperson

A common misconception is that the chairperson does everything. They do not, they ensure that everything gets done.

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The main responsibilities of the chairperson are:

  • ensuring that the meeting gets through all of its business in the allocated time available,
  • making sure everyone is clear on what decisions have been taken,
  • ensuring that everyone knows who is going to do what tasks,
  • keeping the meeting in order ⎼ ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to be heard and stopping inappropriate interruptions and irrelevancies,
  • setting agendas in partnership with the secretary. 

It is particularly important to note that the chairperson does not have any special powers in the committee. In fact, some committees are set up so that the chairperson cannot vote.

Chairing requires a particular skill to ensure that the resources and skills of all committee members are utilised to the full. In this way the association will be much more effective. The post of chairperson should not be used as a platform from which the holder expounds their own views.

It can be difficult at times to keep meetings in order; given this, it is useful for everyone to sign up to a Code of Conduct when they join the committee (make it a requirement) so that everyone knows the rules and parameters.

Depending on the size of your committee it may be useful for people to “speak through the chairperson”. What this means is that people should put their hand up when they have something to say, and the chairperson controls who is able to speak. It is very important that everyone is given an opportunity. Be aware that some people, often new to the committee, find it difficult to talk at meetings and you should look to make sure they are included and make it as easy as possible for them. However, the chairperson also needs to be aware that some people have a lot to say and may need firmer control to allow time for others.

It can be helpful to ask “Is there anyone who hasn’t spoken yet who would like to say something on this?” or “Mr X has spoken several times on this already so I think we should hear from … ”

The chairperson may want to go round the committee briefly to check everyone is happy with their opportunity to speak and that the meeting is ready to make a decision. Then make sure the meeting makes a formal decision (even if it is to defer until further information is obtained) and that this is recorded.

It is very important that the chairperson does not let one person interrupt too frequently. This will delay proceedings, may lead to indecision, frustrate other members, lead to frayed tempers and to people resigning from the committee, if unchecked.

An effective chairperson needs to:

  • Set a time limit for the meeting and make sure members know at the start when the meeting will finish ⎼ no one likes meetings that go on for hours.
  • Ensure the meeting keeps moving and does not run on too much on any one subject. If it looks like doing so, check with everyone that they are happy with this, and advise that it will mean that the meeting will go on longer than planned if they want to keep discussing this subject (sometimes this can be a valuable discussion that people are happy to keep on with).
  • If it looks likely that the meeting will overrun, suggest that some items are postponed until the next meeting.
  • Be clear and concise. Vague suggestions and proposals are an invitation for endless discussion.
  • Draw the item to a close by summarising the main points, what has been decided and who is going to carry it out.
  • Ensure the minute taker has time to record the decisions and who is going to carry them out.


A chairperson should not:

  • use their position to impose their views on the meeting
  • talk too much
  • ignore people who want to speak
  • allow one or two people to do all the talking ⎼ meetings should be as inclusive as possible.

Finally, there is a common misconception about the power of the chairperson outside of the committee meeting. Many organisations have something called “Chairs Action” whereby the chairperson makes certain decisions outside of the committee meeting. Essentially the chairperson has no authority or power other than that delegated by the committee. If you wish the chairperson to act for the association outside of the committee then this must be formally delegated by the committee. This is known as a “Standing Order” and should clearly state what the chairperson is allowed to do. This will give the chairperson the necessary power to act on behalf of the association in the areas delegated. All action taken by the chairperson must then be formally reported to the committee at its next meeting.

The Secretary

The role of secretary is not as defined as that of chairperson, and will vary from one group to another. Your association should state and set down (at the outset) what it expects the secretary to do.

However, there are some basic tasks that can be carried out by the secretary. These include:

  • Take the minutes in meetings.
  • Keep the records of past minutes and meetings.
  • Set the agenda in partnership with the chairperson.
  • Let the committee/members know when and where the next meeting will be held.
  • Keep the membership records.
  • Keep a log of all correspondence in and out.
  • Send and receive letters/emails on behalf of the association.

Minute taking

Only the main points of the discussion, and who is to carry out any agreed action, need to be recorded. Minutes are not meant to be a verbatim record of what was said at a meeting. However, there is no harm in audio recording each meeting and filing the audio file.

Some tips to remember are:

Take rough notes in the meeting ⎼ they can be written up later (but don’t leave it too long).

Know everyone at the meeting and where they are from (send a sheet of paper around and ask everyone to write their name and organisation).

Sit where you can see who is speaking.

If it is not clear on what is being said or agreed, ask for clarification (perhaps speak to the person presenting the item before the meeting for a better understanding of what is being discussed).

Record the names of those who propose and second motions.

Do not try to record everything, but make sure there is a note of what has been proposed, who will carry it out and the completion date or deadline.

After the meeting ensure that members get the minutes in good time and that copies are kept of all past minutes (it can be worthwhile getting someone else who was at the meeting to check the draft before it is sent out).


  • File records, such as minutes. It is important to be able to find records easily.
  • Do not let paperwork build up ⎼ it’s more manageable to sort out papers regularly.
  • Get a book to record correspondence received and when it was answered.
  • Get a diary to record future meeting dates.
  • Make a “to do” list ⎼ don’t rely on your memory.

Share information

Make sure that any information received is forward to the relevant person. The secretary often receives paperwork on behalf of the group, and this must be shared. Ensure that the other committee members work closely with the secretary.

Do not do everything

This video is more focused on US-related requirements but in general, it provides an overview of the roles required in any non-profit organisation. Source: Amber Melanie Smith

Make sure that the workload is shared among other members. Do not let the secretary get overloaded, others can take the minutes or take on any one of the duties. This helps to maintain a reasonable workload and gets others more involved. One way of achieving this is to run a roster on who takes the minutes.

If there is too much to do, raise it with the committee and see if other volunteers will assist.

The Treasurer

The treasurer is the person who has day-to-day responsibility for the association’s money and for keeping accurate financial records. However, it is the committee that has responsibility for deciding how the money is used. This is an important distinction to remember.

It is also important to note that while the treasurer has day-to-day responsibility, the committee is the body with overall responsibility for ensuring that the finances are managed properly.

If you are acting as treasurer, there are a few simple rules that will assist in carrying out this role:

  • Be methodical and keep clear records of money received or paid out. Do not rely on memory!
  • Ensure your paperwork is accurate ⎼ do not keep scraps of paper as records, these are easily mislaid or lost.
  • Record everything in and out ⎼ do not offset (i.e. if you have collected membership fees and paid for some stationery with some of these fees, record both transactions and not just the remaining sum) one against the other when entering in the accounts.
  • Keep the association’s money separate from your own.
  • Do not keep large amounts of cash ⎼ put it in the bank.
  • For petty cash, ensure that the amount held equals the figure in the cash book.
  • Ensure that the bank account requires two signatures for cheques or withdrawal forms.
  • Check the bank statements carefully and regularly.

When receiving money ensure that you:

Issue a receipt. You can buy small numbered duplicate books from most stationers. Record the total, the date, the name of the person from whom the cash is received and a description of what it is for (e.g. membership fees). Hand over the top copy and keep your copy in the book.

When making payments ensure that you:

  • Always get an invoice or receipt.
  • Fill out a petty cash voucher and ask the person receiving the money to sign for it. Staple any receipts to the voucher, number it and keep them in order.

Reports to committee

Your report should be a summary of the current financial position of the association taken from the cash book. It may be either written or verbal depending on the size of your association and the requirements of the committee.

You should always be in a position to state how much money the association has available, and while this may be sufficient for small associations, it is best to report:

  • Money available in bank/building society.
  • Amount received and paid out in the year so far.
  • Expected income and bills due over the next month or quarter.