It’s important for a nonprofit to instill confidence in the people who donate as well as the people they serve. Allowing attendance at board and other meetings is a good way to accomplish this goal. Illinois, like every US state, has “open meeting” laws that apply to governmental bodies. Nonprofits may also be required to have “open meetings,” under certain circumstances. Required or not, open meetings may be right for nonprofits, too.
“Open Meeting” Or “Sunshine Laws”
These laws were first suggested in the 1950s by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. This group later formed the Freedom of Information Committee to pressure state legislatures to start having open meetings.
Over time, states began to pass these laws. By 1976, all 50 states and the District of Columbia had “open meeting” laws making government open and responsive to the public.
Laws that give the public the right to access the workings of governmental activity are relatively new. Members of the public as well as the media have the right to attend, but not necessarily the right to participate. Many open meeting laws include instructions for clearing a room if things get out of hand.
The Illinois Open Meetings Act
Illinois has its own open meeting laws, also known as the OMA. This state law requires meetings for public bodies to be open to the public except in certain situations. This allows the public to have access to governmental activity and decisions, and to observe any deliberations involved.
Meetings of these types must give the public advance notice, including time, place and the meeting’s subject matter.
A “public body” can include:
- The state
- Municipalities such as cities, townships, incorporated towns, and villages
- Municipal corporations
- School boards and districts
The term can also include committees, subcommittees, and subsidiary bodies of any public bodies. Park district boards, civic commissions, and city councils are some examples.
Some meetings are allowed to be closed to the public. Generally, meetings for:
- Appointment of an employee or legal counsel
- Disciplinary action, including dismissal, for an employee or legal counsel
- Collective negotiation for salary negotiations for a group of employees
- Appointment of an individual into public office
- Removal of an individual from public office
Are not covered by the OMA.
How OMA Affects Nonprofits
Technically, nonprofits wouldn’t fall under OMA. However, some nonprofits that receive government funding may be subjected to it. The deciding factor is the amount of government involvement in the nonprofit.
For each board member, it’s important to understand the OMA, and how it may apply to the nonprofit. Failing to comply with the OMA can lead to board members being held personally responsible. Board members and/or other executive staff should consult with legal counsel to ensure compliance with the OMA.
2020 Updates To The OMA
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law Public Act 101-0640 on June 12, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The update to Section 7 allows for virtual meetings (by audio or video conference), and include a quorum even if the meetings are held virtually.
The meeting must have 48 hours prior notice except in emergency situations, with advance notices posted to their website and provided to the appropriate media.
Members of the public are also allowed to attend by audio or video conference. Recordings and other records of these meetings are also required to be made available to the public.
James Provenza—Chicago’s Nonprofit Attorney
We have over 20 years of experience helping nonprofit startups in the Chicago area with all of their legal matters. Along with comprehensive knowledge of Illinois nonprofit law as well as best practices for growing nonprofits, Attorney James C. Provenza can ensure that all of your legal requirements are done correctly. Contact our office at (847) 729-3939 today, or use our online contact form. We look forward to helping ensure that your organization is successful.