Governance, with a splash of lime!

Darren Knight, chief executive of Bolton CVS, talks about why and how the organisation decided to transform its AGM into a fun and engaging event.

At Bolton CVS, it’s important to us as a membership organisation to keep our members informed of what we’re doing and involve them actively in our decision making. One way of doing this is through our Annual General Meeting (AGM).

When I took over as chief executive, our AGMs had a tried and tested format that were well attended and since I joined the organisation in 2015, I’ve had the privilege of being part of 5 AGMs, each one with a totally different approach.

For our AGM in 2019, we wanted to do something that would be interesting, talked about and would have a legacy. We came together as a team to discuss what we wanted. We knew that we wanted people to have fun and enjoy it, but also to carry our key messages of the importance and value of people and communities making a positive change to help others and change lives.

Our chair had already said that he was keen to do one of our events in a local pub, so this really stimulated our thinking. In Bolton, we’re lucky to have a well-engaged private sector who work to support community action too. The team came up with the idea of working with one of the community focussed pubs in Bolton and so they went and did a couple of site visits.

We decided on working with the Northern Monkey, a local micro-brewery. We spoke to our local caterers at Odessa who do most of our events and organised ‘pie and mash’ for attendees, to truly give it that pub-grub feel.

In previous years, we’ve been told by attendees to our AGM that they wanted to hear more from our members. That they wanted the voice of charities, good causes and volunteers to feature in our AGM and this is where the team truly excelled. With this in mind, we commissioned a locally-based media charity, Youth Leads UK, to make a video and then we identified 15 community champions including the mayor of Bolton, charity chief executives, voluntary sector staff and volunteers. They each had the opportunity to talk about the amazing work of their organisation, then ask a question that specifically related to their work and the voluntary sector. This was then compiled and delivered as a pub quiz, hosted by our vice-chair.

At the AGM, the leader of Bolton Council spoke with passion about the value of volunteering, Bolton Council’s chief executive talked about the amazing difference made by charities and good causes in Bolton. The chair of Bolton CVS shared some words about how right there, at our AGM, you could see the Bolton private, public and voluntary sectors collaborating for change, just as it should be.

We also invited a local organisation to share some of their work with the Roma community and they spoke so passionately about their work, it was an agenda that excited and interested, a venue that was completely different and fully participatory, just as a charity AGM needs to be.

The AGM is also where we unveil our annual review. This year we’d asked for it to be produced in the style of an annual. It’s colourful, grabs attention and tells our story. You can read it here.

Reading the feedback, there was such a positive response about the passion, enthusiasm and connectedness of Bolton CVS as an organisation, the whole team and the work that they do and the public and private sectors.

We’ve turned our AGM into something that’s talked about. It has an impact. People want to come. We had almost 80 people attending. It was enjoyable, accessible, fun and all fitted neatly into two hours. We then had a local acoustic singer to finish.

We’ve worked hard to make our AGM an event not for us, but for our sector, for our members. We make it a celebration, a destination and an attraction and people enjoy it.

And the best thing about it was, I was able to end it with a gin and tonic and a splash of lime!

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