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Common Committee Challenges

Last week we looked at key elements of successful committees (read the post here if you haven’t yet), and this week I’m sharing specific advice for addressing some common committee challenges.

A Committee Member Stops Showing Up

“Susie” was recruited or volunteered to join the committee and things started off great. She signed up for projects and came to a few meetings. But now she’s not showing up, either literally (missing meetings) or figuratively (not following through on tasks).

  • Have an honest conversation. Make sure Susie knows she is valued. Genuinely listen to see what is stopping her from participating. She may need to step back for this year due to personal challenges, to focus on a different area if she doesn’t feel equipped with her current tasks, or she may simply prefer a different method of communication from the committee. Note: you may need to reach out several times to have this conversation. Try different methods – text, email, call. It’s worth your time and effort.

  • Clarify expectations. Does she have the calendar of meetings for the year? Does she clearly know her assignments and deadlines? Maybe she’s backing away because she was surprised by a certain expectation and doesn't feel equipped.

  • Ask what she needs. Maybe she would do better with a partner for her assigned projects. Or perhaps she just needs access to files from previous years.

  • Send reminders. You can text a reminder the day before a meeting to make sure she’ll be there, or call to check in on her project a couple of days before a big deadline.

If several committee members are backing off, you may need to do a more thorough check-in. Ask a staff or board member to make some calls and find out if there’s a common theme, or send out anonymous surveys to everyone on the committee. Maybe there’s an individual others find it hard to work with. Maybe a different leadership style is needed. Maybe Tuesday night meetings just don’t work for everyone. Whether it’s a simple change or a complex challenge, leaders should be open to feedback and input.

You Have Trouble Filling the Committee

Whether your problem is retaining former committee members or recruiting new ones, an understaffed committee will have trouble meeting goals and is often an indicator of bigger problems. Survey members regularly to find out:

  • Are they having fun? The team will be more cohesive and productive if members want to be there! Ideas for improvement: select a “Champion of Fun” and give them a certain amount of time at each meeting; invite members to a menu or wine tasting; or host a committee party to celebrate successes or brainstorm new ideas.

  • Do they feel valued? Recognizing and appreciating the time and effort that members put into a committee is so important to ‘job satisfaction’. I listed several ideas for thanking members in last week’s post, and encourage you to get creative.

  • Do they know the impact they’re making? Members signed up to support a cause they care about. Remind them of the impact they make on this mission!

  • Does the amount and type of work match their expectations? If volunteers feel overworked, they’re unlikely to help out again or recommend the role to friends. There’s also the possibility that members would like to work on different types of projects. If you have an entrepreneurial volunteer assigned to managing the guest list, he or she will likely come away feeling unsatisfied and underutilized. It takes a good leader to get the right volunteer on the right task.

  • Do they plan to join the committee again? Do they have friends who would like to join? Simply asking these questions will help you assess where some of your challenges might be.

No One Signs Up to Lead

Lack of a committee chair or leader is a real challenge – especially when that means that a staff or board member will need to take on the role instead of focusing on other assigned projects. Here are my best ideas to avoid this problem:

  • Establish sub-committees and sub-chairs. This ensures that you have several volunteers in a leadership pipeline and also that your committee chair position is well supported. To make this work well, ensure that each sub-chair has the resources and help they need, and authority to make the appropriate decisions.

  • Recognize leadership skills in existing members. Volunteers will feel more ownership and leadership potential if someone else identifies it in them. Call someone after a meeting to say, “I really appreciated when you offered wisdom on that topic.” Ask someone skilled at motivation to call a member who hasn’t come in a while. Invite someone with great communication skills to lead a training. If you let a volunteer know you see them as a leader, they will begin to see it as well.

  • Ask. This is just as simple as it sounds. Have one-on-one conversations with potential leaders to ask if they are interested in taking on a leadership role in the future. Start the conversations early in the year and revisit it regularly with those who show an interest.

The Committee Doesn’t Meet Its Primary Goal

This can happen for many reasons, but here are some good starter questions:

  • Was the goal realistic?

  • Was the goal clear and well-known among members? Did you track progress toward it throughout the year?

  • Where did the committee spend most of its time? Did those tasks directly contribute to meeting the goal?

  • Did the committee have the resources it needed?

No matter what the cause is, if your committee is lacking in resources or isn’t on track to meet its goal you need to adjust the expectations so you don’t burn out good volunteers and leaders! Hopefully you’ve taken time to rank your priorities for the team so you know where to focus time and energy when those are limited. Find places you can reduce the workload without risking your top goal. Do you really need to have the committee putting together elaborate centerpieces? Would a raffle do as well as a silent auction, with fewer volunteer hours needed to prepare? You should also evaluate others who can take on part of the work. Can your Board manage corporate outreach? Can you hire an event planner for logistics and focus your committee on fundraising and relationships?

I hope this helps your committee make any needed adjustments to make a bigger impact for your organization. Next week I'll post about other challenges that indicate a broader culture change might be necessary, and how to start.

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