By Diane Bauhof, CFRE, Senior Consultant
One of my former nonprofit employers had 18 committees, yep, 18! Now, keep in mind, it also had 90+ board members, 1,000+ volunteers, and a multi-million-dollar budget. That’s an overload for the vast majority of nonprofit organizations, and thankfully so. It takes a lot of time, energy, and patience for staff members (and volunteers) to manage everyone effectively and to have the committees produce effective work to benefit the organization’s mission.
I’m guessing you are shaking your head and saying to yourself, “No. No Committees. I don’t have time to find members, manage them, and honestly, don’t want to run things past a group of individuals who don’t know what I deal with every day.” But before you give up completely, remember you’re not supposed to do all this work for your nonprofit by yourself. It’s not possible, nor is it sustainable for an extended period of time. Whether it’s just you, or a few people on staff, you likely need help, and a nonprofit should be engaging with the community to fulfill its mission. Committees aren’t making more work for you...they should be helping to run your organization more efficiently and effectively, open more doors, raise more money, and have a team of dedicated individuals you can rely on...and who will support you! When done right, committees can work magic!
Don’t start by adding five committees all at once – start small with one or two. When I was at a much smaller organization, we started two committees: a Development Committee to help expand reach into the community and raise money and an Education Committee to get input as we developed our education programs and to help us navigate the schools and engage with teachers. Both committees were lifesavers for us. Having committed individuals involved at a deeper level also brought credibility to our new organization as we entered the St. Louis community.
So, where to start?
Decide which committee you want to start first – where do you have the biggest demand?
Create a Committee Job Description to describe what members will focus on (and not focus on). Outline how often they meet, the number of anticipated members, term limits, and help create agreement amongst the committee members. Remember: The committee is there to support the organization’s existing plans and long-range vision. As the staff lead, you will be guiding the work of the committee by giving them 2-3 meaningful pieces of work.
Find a chairperson – ideally someone on your Board of Directors. Meet with them in person to make the ask and discuss the reasons behind the committee, how they can help, plans for the committee, and timelines.
Recruit committee members – ask your chairperson for their ideas. Bring a list of your donors/partners/volunteers to help generate potential committee members. Start small – ask for just one name and see how it grows from there.
Once you have a core group ready to go (may only be 3-4 people to start), set up the first meeting. Make sure your committee chairperson can attend and consider sending a Doodle Poll (or similar) to find the best day and time for everyone.
Host the meeting(s) at your facility if you have space. If not, ask a committee member to host at their home. At the first meeting, be sure to remind everyone of the goals of the committee (there’s where the 2-3 pieces of meaningful work come into the forefront). The committee should not be finding work for you (or your team) to do – they should be supporting your work and the organization’s goals.
With a properly formed and managed committee, a little bit of extra work on your end will lead to more engaged volunteers, raising more money, being introduced to new potential board members, volunteers and donors, and more success overall with your programs and fundraising. Will you have a volunteer committee, or not...that question is for you to decide!
And...if you need help moving away from a bad fundraising idea from a committee member, read Linda Haley’s post about The Elegant No. Questions about committees? Contact Let’s Build Hope at (314) 716-2496 or LetsBuildHope@lbh-stl.com.
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