05 February 2013

Dump Your Committees

Volunteerism is changing.

I know I'm not the first person to think - or write - about this. Hell, Peggy Hoffman and Cynthia D'Amour have built their businesses on working with new volunteer models. But recent events have conspired to bring it top of mind for me.

The thing about standing committees is that they're standing.

Think about that for a moment.

Not "walking." Not "running." Not "flying." Not "innovating."

Standing. As in "still."

OK, that may be excessively harsh.

One of the problems with standing committees is that they can easily become zombies, continuing on with calls and meetings and reports to the board whether or not there's actually anything for them to DO.

Now maybe, at some point in the past, nobody really cared all that much. It was part of your community responsibility to be on the call or in the meeting or to write the report, and if nothing was happening, you were OK with that. Common good and whatnot. At least that's the theory about Boomers, although I tend to think it's way less true than everyone pretends it is, but whatever.

One thing we know about following generations is that we're at least more comfortable expressing our irritation with wasted time and effort. We want to come together, GSD (Get Shit Done), and move on.

What does that remind you of? A task force, right? Bring together a group of people who are genuinely interested and skilled in the task at hand, work on it until it's done (whether that's an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year...), have a nice happy hour to celebrate your success, disband.

I know what you're about to say: "Our standing committees are set in our bylaws. Do you know what a pain in the ass it is to try to change our bylaws?"

Actually, yes, I do, having been through it in prior associations. And you do probably have to maintain a standing finance committee. But just because something is hard to do doesn't mean it's not a good idea.

Scared?

What about an experiment?

The next time one of your board members comes up with a great idea that doesn't have a natural home in one of your existing committees, try putting together a task force to work it, and see what happens. If it goes well, try disbanding one of your standing non-bylaws-mandated committees (you know you have at least one) and spreading their work to some task forces. If that goes well, maybe it's time to open the conversation about which standing committees you really have to have, and which you don't.


2 comments:

Eric Lanke said...

Good advice, Elizabeth. But be careful that when you're talking about dumping your committees your engaged members don't think you're talking about dumping them. A lot of this "committee," "task force," "working group," nomenclature is inside association baseball, and some members are keyed to it. Another strategy is to keep your committees (in name) but start treating them like task forces.

Elizabeth Engel said...

"Good advice" to you, too, Eric. It's important to remember that our members don't focus on the association 40 hours a week like we do and make sure that any decisions or changes are explained in ways THEY will understand.