5 Tips to Make Your Next Committee More Effective
It’s safe to say that nonprofit employees see their fair share of committees. Ask anyone in the sector and they’ll probably roll their eyes and start running down the list of committees they’ve sat on.
There are a whole range of committees nonprofit staff can be part of. Internally there might be a party planning, audit, or health and safety committee. Or there might be a donor advisory council. Externally, many of us sit on working groups, government advisories, board of directors, steering committees, and more.
Committees don’t always operate smoothly. It can be a challenge to bring a team together in a room, discuss ideas and come to decisions together. And it can sometimes be even more challenging to get members to follow through on their action items.
But with some careful planning you can create an environment that will set your committee up for success. Here are five tips to get you started.
1. Create a terms of reference
Every committee needs to have terms of reference that outlines the expectations for the group. The terms should outline who forms the group, what the goal is, and how they plan to achieve their goal (i.e. their deliverables). It is also helpful to outline who the committee is accountable to. For example, a donor advisory council may be accountable to a nonprofit’s board of directors, or a steering committee may be accountable to a government body. Occasionally these terms are decided by the group itself as one of its first orders of business.
2. Select and train your committee chair
Put a lot of thought into who you ask to be your chair. They should have the ability to lead meetings, moderate discussion, and understand group dynamics. Your chair should have previous committee experience, and ideally previous experience on the particular committee you’re asking them to chair (this is not always possible if your committee is brand new). In addition to selecting your chair carefully, you will need to provide them with training. This training should take a deeper delve into the purpose of the committee, the outcomes you’re hoping to achieve, and, importantly, the essentials of chairing a meeting such as Robert’s Rules of Order, if that’s what you happen to follow.
3. Training and orientation
Your regular committee members will need to receive training so they can hit the ground running and get to work. You’ll want to provide issue- or activity-specific training for each committee member, in addition to some guidance on group work, and any legal knowledge they’ll need. If your committee includes diverse groups, your members could also receive cultural competency training.
4. Designate one person to manage logistics
Scheduling, writing meeting minutes, keeping tabs on attendance and quorum – all these things are best done by one person to minimize confusion and keep everything running smoothly. Ask one of your committee members to volunteer to be a logistics coordinator. This person can also be put in charge of creating a shared space to host all the documents your group works with.
5. Decide in advance how decisions are made
Committees make a lot of decisions. It’s helpful to agree on, and write down, the decision-making structure in advance of having to make actual decisions. Does your committee require a majority vote? Or are you operating with the goal of consensus? You can include this decision-making process in the terms of reference, or just keep them handy in meeting minutes for the group.
Cheat Sheets are Charity Savant’s free guides to help you do more with less. They are quick-fix one pagers with easy to digest top-five tips to help you solve almost any problem. Check out our growing list of free Cheat Sheets.