“Death by committee” is a phrase used to describe the failure of a project or initiative due to its assignment to a committee. Though many projects have no doubt “passed away” because of mismanagement, committees are commonly used by nonprofits to effectively advance the mission of the organization.
Most nonprofits have committees associated with their board. They often correspond to ongoing functions of the organization such as finance, development, or operations, and their purpose is to guide and support staff as they execute the work of those functions. Boards also often have ad hoc committees that support temporary initiatives such as a specific advocacy issue or an event.
Partnerships or community initiatives also use committees. They can be owned by single or multiple organizations, and most are led by a staff member from one of the leading organizations whose job it is to manage and organize the work of the committee.
Two characteristics of nonprofit committees make them very different compared to traditional teams in organizations, e.g marketing, operations, development.
- Team members are often from different organizations.
- There is no formal management hierarchy, e.g. manager to subordinate.
These differences must be taken into account by leaders to make their committees successful. Below are some helpful tips for effectively managing your nonprofit committee.
1. Formalize the Mission/Objectives of the Committee
Specify for the team’s records the objective of the committee, i.e. what is it that the team is trying to accomplish, and how will the team know know that they’ve accomplished it. Include the committee’s main responsibilities, time commitment expectancies, support available, and specific skills required. When practical, get buy-in from your team members on this statement. Be sure to openly discuss these roles to everyone involved in the committee during a meeting.
2. Clearly Define Roles and Responsibilities
It is also important to specify the roles within committees and to clearly define those roles. What are the key responsibilities of the chairperson, secretary, and treasurer? Make sure each person involved knows each other’s roles and responsibilities, so they can support them as much as possible. This will help break down silos and assist with training when a new position opens up or if someone is unable to follow through with their specific task.
3. Pick a Collaboration Method
Communication is critical to effectively organizing and managing a committee, so if you don’t have a means for allowing your team to communicate with as little friction as possible, you are setting the team up for failure. One option is to provide your committee with a survey to determine which collaboration technique works best; whether it’s email, texting, Cureo’s nonprofit collaboration software, or a Facebook group. If you’re having trouble getting everyone on the same page, then clearly defining one method of collaboration in your role description is an alternative route.
4. Use Soft Skills
As committee chair/leader, the ability to use hierarchy or reporting structures to influence people is limited. Team leaders must rely more heavily on soft skills such as listening, empathy, communication, and teamwork to motivate people to contribute in the ways that they are expected. Along with paying close attention to the politics of the committee.
A well-structured, clearly defined committee led by a supportive and motivating leader, will open many doors and allow everyone to work better, together.
To learn more about how to manage all aspects of your nonprofit organization from inside staff to outside team members such as committees, task forces, and community partners, download our free communication guide.