An Association Exec’s True Confession

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The conversation started with a daring confession posted on ASAE’s listserv: an association at a loss what to do with a standing PR committee.  The exec asked if anyone had eked out a meaningful role for their PR committee. I won’t disclose the association because it could be any of us. Nearly every association I’ve met could make that confession.

Three useful points came out of the discussion.

  1. The sequence isn’t (a) build a committee, (b) find a task. If there isn’t a compelling role directed tied to the ongoing work of the association, a standing committee is not needed. Identify the tasks to be done and fill the roles, being open to the fact that the role may not be best filled with a standing committee. One association executive reported that shifting from standing committees to as-needed PR task forces on specific initiatives turned out to be a better solution. As a bonus, it produced a successful way to engage eager volunteers for a specific job for a limited amount of time (see #3).
  2. Every day there’s a sunset, followed by a sunrise the next morning. We can and should sunset committees when their immediate work is done. There are at least three great reasons for this: the cost of governance, the drain on volunteers, and the sunrise can’t come until the sun sets (or how can we create new if there’s no space?).
  3. Sometimes the whole is not greater than the parts. We often see a bunch of jobs or tasks and so wrap them up into a committee. The thinking is a committee will provide a focal point for all those smaller tasks and create something bigger.  What happens instead is that some of tasks get lost in the bigger pool, others get far too magnified, and others get twisted.  This is also were we see committee conflicts. One of the suggestions on the listserv was that the PR committee could take on a fundraising role – just tell that to your standing supplier relations committee.  

There’s another part to lesson 3. When we bundle short-term, focused tasks into a committee, we inherently limit volunteer opportunities. We push more and more jobs onto fewer and fewer volunteers.

Look at the list of tasks suggested on the listserv:

  • create a Strategic Public Relations Plan
  • identify key audiences
  • develop key messages
  • identify new outlets and new programs
  • draft talking points on various issues
  • help liaise with chapter media contacts
  • develop (or help in drafting) press releases
  • monitor corporate communication to assure consistency and direction of your brand
  • think up ways and means to promote the projects happening on the other committees task calendar
  • deliberate on issues facing your profession relating to PR that need to be ironed out and create a proposed policy to come back to the Board for consideration
  • create white papers

Any of these could easily be ad-hoc jobs which draw in new volunteers, new thinking and therefore new resources.

It all started with a confession – and just think it could be the beginning of a new volunteer model.

Mariner Management & Marketing provides association management, volunteer coordinator and leadership development information for associations and non-profit organizations.