Late in 2021, the New York State Legislature passed, and Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law, a revision to New York’s Not-for-Profit Corporation Law (NPCL) that makes it easier for nonprofits and religious organizations to hold virtual membership meetings.
Historically, New York’s NPCL did not allow nonprofit organizations to hold virtual membership meetings. That changed with the COVID-19 pandemic, when New York offered temporary flexibility to the boards of charitable and religious nonprofits. Under the COVID-19 rules, boards of charitable nonprofit or religious organizations could unilaterally decide to hold member meetings virtually. Under the revised law, boards of nonprofit charitable organizations may unilaterally determine whether or not to hold member meetings electronically, as long as their certificate of incorporation or bylaws do not prohibit such a decision.
Similarly, the newly-created default rule under New York’s Religious Corporations Act (RCL § 28) is that a board of a religious corporation may organize a virtual membership meeting if the board is already authorized to determine the place of a membership meeting, under either the organization’s governing documents or another provision of the RCL. However, leaders of religious organizations should bear in mind that the RCL contains different provisions depending on the denomination of the organization – leaders must be careful to review their organizing documents as well as the applicable sections of the RCL to confirm whether they have the requisite power to call virtual membership meetings or, if not, whether they could amend their governing documents to acquire that power.
Any boards considering adopting a virtual format for their upcoming membership meeting should consult with an advisor to review their organizational documents. Any nonprofit or religious corporations whose certificate of incorporation or by-laws prohibits virtual membership meetings should consider whether and how to revise their documents to provide the board with additional flexibility. We anticipate that many organizations and their members will decide to operate under virtual or hybrid formats in the near future.