Down with Committees

A great conversation happened over on the ASAE Components Section Collaborate group. It began with a simple request for a sample committee charter or work plan. It morphed though into a dialog on the value of committees.

Donna Dunn, CAE, Executive Director and CEO, Association of YMCA Professionals, opened with a great statement: “I’m going to get on my soapbox this morning. I don’t believe in committees except for the legally required ones (nominating and audit and finance). Especially with components, I believe we engage more people with task forces and work groups with specific work to do than with committees who may or may not have a portfolio of work.

She added that in their recent member study they found that people who volunteer for AYP are more satisfied with their membership and feel more engaged. She’s translates that nugget to a simple mantra “the more people we can get involved, the better off we are” and is using it to continue their march for governance innovation. They recently revised by-laws, eliminating committees except nominating and audit/finance and encouraging chapters to do the same.

Incidentally, I had the honor of facilitating their recent chapter leader retreat after which one chapter president wrote: “Just wanted you to know that after returning I had a great discussion with my CEO and we are adjusting the way we are doing Board work…WE ARE KILLING THE COMMITTEES! I will also be working with the board of AYP Chapter to do this very thing as well.”

Sharon Kneebone IOM, CAE, Director of Membership, Institute of Food Technologists, chimed into agree with Donna, adding that she has “seen too many components spend all of their volunteer efforts of filling mandatory committee positions with little work happening on providing true value at the component level.”

The nugget she shared is to use zero-based committee approach for components (essentially an approach which has the board review its volunteer work group structure to create work groups to fulfill the component’s strategic priorities and objectives for the year. They are moving their sections to a similar model. I loved her rationale: “It is much better to create the volunteer groups to the work at hand than to try and fit the work to a stagnant committee model.” And I loved even more her report that IFT has more than quadrupled its volunteer engagement after switching to an ad hoc model.

Incidentally, the Oncology Nursing Society reported similar astonishing results when they switched from the traditional, hierarchical structure to an adhocracy: moving from about 1 in 26 to 1 in 5.

Lowell Aplebaum, Director, Membership & Councils, International Facility Management Association, reported similar approaches. An idea to steal from them is their Talent Scout (Volunteer Coordinator) position in chapters which fuels the adhocracy at the local level. You can check out more about their model and get a fuller explanation on their website.

Let’s all be honest – most committees don’t move the needle for our associations. Some do. If you look hard enough, you’ll see that these operate as task forces or work groups. If committees and terms send people screaming in the opposite direction, then why hold on to the tradition. Create a new tradition.