Know Your ABCs: Associations Benefit from Committees By Barbara Arango

Committees are the lifeblood of associations. They are the vehicles by which organizations meet objectives and accomplish goals – but they can mean so much more to your association. By looking at committees with a fresh set of eyes, you can better appreciate their value and identify steps you can take to better realize that value.

The Benefits of a Solid Association Committee Structure

The main purpose of an association committee is to do a unit of work. Whether it’s maintaining bylaws or creating a program for your annual conference, committees keep the lights on and the association moving forward. However, when you view association committees through a lens of growth and engagement, you’ll find there are other significant, but not so obvious, benefits to having a solid committee structure. Used correctly, committees can be very effective at:

Increasing member engagement

Members don’t want a passive relationship with your organization. Committee involvement provides members with an active way to be part of the association and have a say in its direction. In my experience with associations, committee members are more likely to attend conferences and interact on social media as well. This increased activity helps provide a robust community for all members.

Providing a proving ground for future leaders

A pipeline of known professionals is essential to effective board leadership. Committee involvement is like having an internship. Leadership gets the opportunity to assess commitment and ability before giving someone a more consequential position. I have also seen the benefit to the committee members themselves. They obtain an insider’s understanding of the association and develop relationships with staff and committee chairs. When they move into the Board of Directors, they have a much higher comfort level and begin to contribute right away.

Creating an army of promoters

It would be ideal if all members became active spokespeople for your association. In reality, the best promoters are those that are more involved. You already have increased communication with committee members through calls, emails and committee meetings. You can use these more frequent touchpoints to remind them to talk up the association in general and invite their colleagues to become members. The more committee members you have, the bigger the army.

The best way to truly realize these member engagement and marketing benefits from your committees is to follow a few simple rules that provide a clear committee structure. These five tips will make sure you get the most out of your efforts:

Five Tips to Get the Most Out of Association Committees

Always open calls for nominations.

Some associations have an insider network that tends to keep the same people moving around the organization. It’s important to let membership know there are opportunities to serve and everyone is welcome. Publicizing openings can bring new faces and perspectives and broaden your reach to new groups. The makeup of committees should reflect not only members with history but also members with fresh ideas and enthusiasm.

One association that had a history of the current board choosing nominations for open board seats had a reputation for being an “old boys network.” We worked with them to develop a standard operating procedure for developing a slate of candidates. Now they have an open call for nominations and a much more diverse field of candidates from which to choose. The number of complaints, incidentally, has all but vanished as well.

Have specific responsibilities and clear terms.

No one wants to raise their hand if it is not clear what will be expected of them. Terms and responsibilities should be openly documented and communicated so volunteer expectations are managed. Sometimes association staff and board members think these things are common knowledge – but they’re not. This can be especially true for new association members.

Define a workload that is neither too little nor too much to do.

Everyone is busy. You can’t expect committee volunteers to give as much time as the board, but you must give them something real to do or they will be frustrated. Asking for members to join a committee and then not actually utilizing them can make the association look unorganized and unprofessional. People like to get things accomplished so make sure charges are clear and the workload is manageable.

Choose leaders from among committee members.

Members looking for future leadership positions should realize they can get a leg up by joining a committee. By showing members that there’s an advantage to serving on a committee, your association will be better able to find new leaders and volunteers. And existing leadership can be much more confident about the future performance of volunteers that have a proven track record.

This tip can be especially helpful in encouraging millennial members to get more involved. According to Sarah Sain, director of content for Naylor Association Solutions, millennials are looking for “opportunities for growth; they expect to be able to learn and gain valuable experience, and they expect to make a difference in the world.” Inviting this demographic to participate via committees can meet all of these goals.

Make service a source of pride!

Make sure to publicly thank committee members so others see their contribution. This can be done via notices on the website, articles in e-newsletters, or announcements at conferences. Another simple but meaningful way to highlight committee members is to provide them with a special ribbon to display on their name badge at your meetings. This way, others can recognize and appreciate their contribution to the association.

Staying on top of association committee structure, management and oversight can be a daunting task. Association staff and leadership should understand all the benefits and be supportive of these efforts. Following these few simple tips can ensure your association is truly reaping the benefits committees can provide.

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