Ways For Nonprofit Staff To Use Committees

nonprofit team working togetherUtilizing a committee in a useful but not over-reaching manner is not always easy.  Here are a few reminders about what is and is not an appropriate path.

  1. A committee should have a clear, written charge.
  2. The committee leader can speak for his or her role in the committee – but not the committee as a whole.  A committee chair should help establish the goals and what is to be accomplished, but without the agreement of the committee, the head will end up doing 90% of the work.  Committee leaders often complain about the work they take on but if they work to get the buy-in of the committee – the committee then engages to share the burden.
  3. Changes in expectations should be discussed with the committee.  As much as you wish it would be true, a unilateral decision that more or different jobs are required from the group will not help you get the work done.   People want to know the reason for the changes and often, what will be removed from their responsibilities in exchange for the new assignments.
  4. As individuals join the committee, the staff member and committee chair should meet to discuss his or her specific role as well as mutual expectations.  Be frank about what pieces have not been taken up by other committee members and ask that they commit to at least one task up front.  There will be additional assignments as time goes by, but this will set them up to be a working member and not just an attending member.
  5. Remember that volunteers have alternate lives that sometimes get in the way.  It happens to everyone, intentions get overwhelmed with life – sometimes it is around a holiday, a school vacation, a changed work situation, a sick family member – the list is potentially endless.  Sometimes there is forewarning of an upcoming absence and sometimes there is not.  Understanding is the easy part – dealing with the missing person is the challenge.  The key to overcoming these hurdles is figuring out the problem as early as possible.  If a volunteer goes dark for an unusual period  – check in.  If a deadline is coming up and you have not heard anything, it might be worth sending an email or, better, making a phone call.
  6. Set deadlines.  With out a deadline, it is easy for the work to slip.  We are all procrastinators—to one degree or another.  A date circled on the calendar focuses everyone.

Each case is specific to the organization.  If we can help you overcome some of your committee struggles, please feel free to email David Mersky.