The trouble with AGMs

I’ve always been miffed by pipe band associations’ annual general meetings. They’re of course a necessary thing. Every formal organization with bylaws and legalities and such-like are required to hold AGMs, but there’s something really out-of-whack with AGMs for many piping and drumming organizations.

For a start, it’s music. Music and politics are incompatible bedfellows, and politics pretty much are the source of all piping and drumming unhappiness, whether it’s alleged “political” decisions rendered by judges, or the “politics” within a pipe band, or simply the administrative side of organized competition. Most of us simply want to play or listen to music, and, for the most part, the political administration of piping and drumming associations is left to others.

As evidenced by the typical five per cent turnout of members at most AGMs, we dislike these things more than massed bands in a downpour. AGMs are held in the off-season, when the last thing we want to do is drive for miles on a Saturday when we’d rather be doing . . . anything else.

But AGMs can have a profound impact on our happiness as competitors and players. The problem is that every association I know of uses AGMs to vote on motions to change rules and policies – matters that frequently determine the structure of our events, what we play, how we play it, and how they’re judged. To say that association members are apathetic or lazy for not attending AGMs is unfair. We all care deeply; we choose instead to just cross our fingers and hope that whoever actually attends doesn’t do anything too stupid.

The difference today is we no longer expect to have to attend these meetings in-person. Since the 1990s, video conferencing and electronic voting have been easy and increasingly less expensive to set up, especially for fairly small organizations, which is what piping and drumming associations really are. Yet many associations are woefully behind when it comes to making use of technology and modern communications to reach out to members.

For today’s piping and drumming associations, here’s a checklist to improve participation in your AGMs:

  • Webcast – invest in a professional A-V company to assist with a broadcast of your event, so that members can log in with their membership number and password.
  • Communicate the agenda early and clearly – outline the motions put forward and allow members to ask questions in advance.
  • Create a formal process for executive nominations well in advance and allow candidates to campaign to membership – the business of spur-of-the-moment nominations for powerful positions often results in electing those who truly are not serious about the role.
  • Allow for proxy voting – members should not have to attend meetings in-person to cast their votes. Develop a system for online balloting.

Lastly – and this deserves to be separate from the bullets above – stop the practice of letting individual members invent rules and allowing them to push them through. Most associations comprise an Executive, a Board of Directors and a Music Committee. Just like a democracy, these three branches of elected and appointed experts are vested with the responsibility to monitor and adjust rules and policies. Just like your government, they make the laws, and they represent you. If you don’t like what they do, vote them out. But the idea of every rule-change being a membership referendum is, as we have seen many times, potentially dangerous. It allows personal agendas to be driven, as individuals, knowing that a small minority of members actually attend the AGM/referendum, can easily stack a vote by ensuring that a handful of cronies attend and vote with them.

Most piping and drumming associations pretty much operate the exact same way they did in 1947, 1964 or whatever long-ago-year they were started. Meanwhile membership numbers have exploded, revenues have grown, and the amount of time and money that pipers and drummers annually invest in this avocation beg for a more modern approach to government.

3 thoughts on “The trouble with AGMs

  1. Great points.

    The Saskatchewan Pipe Band Association AGM [April] is a gathering of band representatives. Each band member has 2 voting reps. Individuals and others are sometimes there, but voting on anything is done by the band reps, and the current SPBA Board is usually comprised of band reps. We have been also doing teleconferences for a few years now, allowing reps to call in to the meeting from wherever they are. It’s cheap, and easy.

    As a result, we typically have a requirement also for bands to have one delegate attend, either in person or via teleconference, so that there has been 100% attendance for a couple of years. The results still aren’t always ideal in terms of progress, but all the bands are represented, and at least that is covered.

    Maybe with a large association like the PPBSO it would make sense to have motions posted a month ahead of the meeting, with web voting for voting members, so the members could speak to motions regardless of attendance?

  2. Andrew : I wonder how many of us here in Ontario, would be in favour of holding the PPBSO AGM on the same weekend as the Highland Ball ?

  3. This sort of constitutional change was at the heart of the creation of the Music Board 15 years ago. Unfortunately, it was swept under the carpet and the Music Board continued on as the Advisory Council under a fancier name. So it’s been the same-old-same-old since then. Until the leaders are allowed to lead and apply some kind of unified vision to the whole affair it will continue to be…. visionless.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.