Chapters and Associated Groups: Are Formal Committees Still Relevant?

Over the past few days, I have been keeping an eye on an interesting thread on an association discussion forum – the topic: whether committees are still relevant especially for smaller organizations like chapters and special-interest groups.

In recent years, organizations of all sizes have taken a closer look at the need for formal committees in their governance structure.  With an economy still in recovery and the resource of time being more precious than ever, apathy is at an all-time high when asking members to volunteer for anything.

If you manage or lead a smaller organization, like a chapter or associated group, you may not have enough “bodies” (members) to entice to become officers, committee chairs or committee members.

For this reason, many organizations are doing away with formal committees (other than the ones required legally – like budget/finance, judicial affairs and nominating) and are moving toward a more ad hoc model.  Associations are using work groups, task forces and volunteer/talent pools more than ever.  Why?

  • They provide shorter, less intrusive time commitments than traditional committees
  • Since the projects offered in these groups are more specific, volunteers are able to participate in something they’re truly interested in
  • Overall, volunteers are able to customize their own experience – supporting a mission they care about, but on their own terms

Organizations like the Oncology Nurses Society, International Facility Management Association, Institute of Food Technology, American Society of Association Executives and others have incorporated some form of “adhocracy” into their volunteer management program and they are working with their chapters and special-interest groups to do the same.

If these models sound interesting, remember there is a LOT to consider before diving in:

  • Ensure that any changes considered or implemented are in line with the organization’s bylaws
  • Review the organization’s current volunteer model – there may be opportunities for creating subcommittees, workgroups or task forces with little effort involved
  • Most important: make sure all activities are aligned with the organization’s mission, vision and strategic plan

Keep in mind, there are many reasons members don’t volunteer for their professional organization.  As mentioned in the book, The Decision To Volunteer, the lack of short-term assignments for volunteers falls right behind (1) not having enough information about volunteer opportunities available, and (2) “no one ever asked me.”  Many organizations have found their volunteer pool grow leaps and bounds when they promote activities with shorter time commitments (that are predetermined)  — combine that with detailed descriptions requesting specific skill-sets and you will be take your volunteer program to a whole new level.

Want to learn how your state ranks in volunteering efforts overall? Visit www.volunteeringinamerica.gov.

How does your chapter or associated group manage committee activities?  What do you do well and how can you improve? 

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