I was asked a great question the other day by the CEO of a national membership organization. “Do most national organizations conduct their board meetings in English? Do they provide translation at all? Is there a requirement that national directors have to be bilingual? Is there a requirement that they have to be able to function in English?”
The answer is interesting. I cannot speak for all organizations in Canada, but here is what I have observed. In terms of member services, all but the very small organizations provide member materials and communications in both official languages and they have bilingual staffers who can communicate in French.
However, it’s different for board meetings. I have never met an organization with a “policy” that they will not provide French language services at board meetings but the fact is that although many have francophone board members, they all seem to conduct board business in English. I’m also not aware of any organizations that have an explicit rule that national directors must be fluent in English but if they were not, they could not function at board meetings. The general feeling is that they all would like to have more involvement and leadership from francophone members, but the cost of translation services is prohibitive for all but the largest organizations.
The AGM is a different matter. Although board meetings seem to be exclusively in English, the larger associations provide more on the translation side at the AGM. Again, resources are an issue. The smaller organizations simply can’t afford it.
Here are a few representative examples in terms of how the AGM is handled by national membership organizations. These are all “officially” bilingual:
Association “A”. Revenue is $10-15 million·

  • They conduct all the AGM business in English ·
  • The PowerPoint slides presented  at the meeting are provided in both official languages·
  • If the AGM is in Quebec or Ottawa they provide simultaneous translation of the proceedings·
  • If they have francophone officers those individuals deliver their reports in both languages·
  • They provide all printed materials in both official languages

Association “B”. Revenue is $400-600k·

  • They conduct all the AGM business in English ·
  • They provide all printed materials in both official languages

Association “C”. Revenue is $100-250k·

  • They conduct all the AGM business in English·
  • Printed materials are provided only in English

In summary:·

  • Member services are typically provided in both languages·
  • The AGM may have some elements translated into French but only for those who are large enough to have the budget·
  • Board meetings are typically in English with no translation