Working in a Committee

Agreement in nonprofit committee imageIf you are involved in a nonprofit, as staff, board member or volunteer, you are probably participating in at least one committee.  And whether you spend your time on an executive committee, building committee, development committee or nominating committee you are sitting with other people thinking the same thing you are: 1 – how can we achieve our goals and 2 – what is the least amount of time I can spend on this committee.

This is not to say that everyone is trying to rush through each meeting.  People are happier sitting on a committee when they feel efficient and effective.  What can you do to assure this?

  1. Have an agenda.  Even the smallest meeting can get off track unless you clearly state why you are there.
  2. Prepare and send materials ahead of time.  We’ve said it before but it needs to be said again.  Sending documents ahead of time – at least a few days and up to a week – allows participants the opportunity to read and consider the information prior to the meeting.  In other words, you can move forward instead of wasting half of each meeting having everyone read the materials and get up to speed.
  3. Unless you are a tight timekeeper and consistent taskmaster, allow some give in your schedule.  Whether you do this by providing for  a “new business” section or “good and welfare” at the end or giving a couple of agenda items an extra five minutes is up to you.  But, if you want to end on time, pad the agenda a bit .
  4. Start and end on time.  If people are consistently walking into a meeting that has started, they will start coming earlier.  Regardless, avoid the extra conversations and catch ups that happen with each new arrival.   If the meetings consistently run over the stated end time without valid reasons, people will take it to mean that the committee chair does not value their time and leave with a less than positive experience.   Or consider this – everyone is busy. But, even though one person has reserved the entire night for the meeting, another might have to catch a train home.
  5. Evaluate each meeting:
    • Did we start and end on time?
    • Did we accomplish what we planned to achieve?
    • Did everyone participate and or have an opportunity to be heard?
  6. Ask for input.  Once a year, ask the committee to submit – in writing – what they think the goals of the committee should be for the upcoming year.  This will create interesting dialogue and ensure everyone has mutual goals.  Why should it be in writing?  Not everyone feels comfortable making a verbal stand and asking for their thoughts in writing encourages each person to think about their response instead of giving off-the-cuff remarks.
  7. Remember to look for new members on a regular basis.  As the years go by, it is easy to say, “ Five people on this committee work ” but new energy will ensure new thinking and help get committees out of a rut – even if they didn’t know they were in one.

Once you establish some of these “best practices” into your routine, they will become second nature to your organization.  And it will make committee members feel like they are helping the success of the organization.  And that is always a good feeling.