Most leaders know the importance of committees. Committee planning should be a priority because they facilitate the board’s work while bringing fresh perspectives to the organization. Committee participation is a good way to engage the members and identify future leaders.
So why do presidents wait until after they are installed, or until the first board meeting, to appoint and charge their committees?
You can help your incoming president power-up his or her committee planning by offering these tips.
Identify the Committees
Standing committees are required and described in the association’s bylaws. Make a list of the standing committees and their requirements, such as prescribed duties and number of members.
Ad hoc, special and "task forces" committees are appointed as needs arise. Your president should consider the association’s objectives and whether or not the standing committees can accomplish all of them. If not, consider appointing special committees that have a narrow focus. They will be disbanded after they achieve their goals.
The best time to identify, appoint and charge the committees is before the incoming president’s installation and prior to the first board meeting. The incoming president should consult with officers and staff to decide what committees must be appointed to handle the work ahead. Take into consideration any work the previous committees did not complete, as well as projects that should be carried into the next year. By planning the committee structure before taking office, the president can give the committee chairs a jump-start on achieving their goals.
The Chairs Should be Accountable
Committees work best with a chair and vice chair to take responsibility for the work. Co-chairs sometimes run committees. The least effective committees are those without any appointed chair, but rather a group of members--nobody being sure who is in charge or accountable.
When discussing duties with the committee chairs, provide a written description of the role and expectations of the chairs. Are they expected to attend board meetings, make reports, or come up with their own action plan?
By telling them what is expected, committees will work to benefit the board. Remind them of this adage: Committees make recommendations, boards ratify, and staff implement.
Charging the Committees
Committee goals must be consistent with the organization’s mission statement, bylaws and strategic plan. Similarly, if the committee is expected to expend funds, or raise them, it should also be consistent with the budget.
Committees are more likely to succeed with very clear directives, or charges. Realistically, one to three charges per committee should make up the bulk of the work for the year. With too many directives, volunteers become overwhelmed and confused.
The best charges for committees are well defined, measurable goals, with deadlines and interim benchmarks. For example, the president may want to increase membership in the association. The charge to the committee might read: "To increase membership by 5% over the current level of 600 regular members, by adding 8 new regular members per quarter." Ask them to report their results in writing at each quarterly board meeting.
Making Appointments, Orientation
After determining the committees, the chairs, and the charges, use decorum to make the appointments. Whether it is the association’s president or the committee chair who appoints committee members, do it with an etiquette that makes members feel special about being asked to serve.
Tell prospective committee members the purpose of the committee on which they are being asked to serve. Describe the committee’s goals and who will be its chair. Provide details about how often the committee meets, whether meetings are in person or by conference call, and if expenses will be reimbursed. When inviting a member to join the committee, give them a reply form they can return by mail or fax so you can be certain they have accepted or declined the invitation to serve.
Require Written Reports
There is a tendency to treat committees as an informal meeting. However, they should be run similar to a board meeting, with the chair providing an agenda and meeting specifics.
Reports should be required for every committee meeting. The president may choose to require meeting minutes, or to provide a standard form that simply asks who attended and what was accomplished. By sharing this report with the president and staff, committees can more effectively gauged their progress and may meet their goals with greater efficiency.
For More Information
The Incoming President’s Planning Workbook is available for free on the Internet. It can be downloaded and used as a guiding document for appointing committees.
Note: Robert C. Harris, CAE, is an association executive and consults on management efficiency. His seminars include "How to Perform a Self-Audit of Information and Operating Systems," and "Best-Practices in Association Management." He is co-author of Building an Association Management Company. Email: "Bob@RCHCAE.com”