The Goldilocks Guide to Volunteer Committees

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March 7, 2024

Associations rely heavily on volunteer committees to get work done. In fact, according to a 2022 survey, 78.9% of associations said that volunteer committees allow the organization to provide services or levels of services it. However, the effectiveness of committees can be hindered when there are either too few or too many volunteers involved. Finding the “just right” size for your volunteer committees is key to success.

The perfect size for volunteer committees

Committees that are too large, with 10 or more members, often struggle with scheduling challenges, lack of participation, and diffusion of responsibility. With so many voices, it can be difficult to come to decisions or complete tasks. Members may feel less accountable when there are more people to share the work. For most committees, somewhere between 3 to 7 members is ideal. This size is large enough to distribute the workload but small enough for members to feel directly responsible for outcomes.

On the other hand, committees with only 1 or 2 members often place too much burden on those individuals. These “committees of one” frequently lack diverse perspectives and burn out quickly under heavy workloads. While a single dedicated volunteer can be effective for short-term or tactical roles, most ongoing committee work benefits from a small team. If you’re not sure where to begin, consider the following to determine the best size for your committees:

  • Define clear goals and objectives: Before forming a committee, it is essential to establish specific objectives and the scope of work. By having a clear understanding of the goals, the association can identify the necessary expertise and skills required to achieve those objectives.
  • Consider the complexity of the task: The size of a committee should be commensurate with the complexity and breadth of the task at hand. Smaller committees may be suitable for narrower projects requiring quick decision-making, while larger committees may be better suited for complex, multifaceted projects that require diverse perspectives.
  • Enforce active participation: The success of a committee is dependent on the active involvement of its members. Forming a committee of an appropriate size ensures that each member can actively contribute and engage in meaningful discussions.

Maximizing the structure of committees

In addition to size, committee composition and structure are also important to consider. A good mix of experience helps to bring in fresh perspectives while also maintaining institutional knowledge. Defining clear roles like chair, vice chair, and secretary helps to distribute responsibilities. It’s also a good idea to establish a fixed term of service, such as 2-3 years, to allow for turnover and new members to join.

Providing a strong foundation and support system for your volunteer committee leads to the best outcomes. Develop a clear mission and goals for the committee to work towards. Offer resources and training to help members be effective in their roles. And be available to provide guidance and input as needed. When you empower your volunteers with purpose and the tools to succeed, it leads to a highly motivated and productive committee.

 

Conclusion

In the end, a volunteer committee should be thoughtfully and intentionally structured to tap into the power of shared goals and community support. Get the size, composition, and foundation right, and your volunteer committee can accomplish great things.  

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