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From handling member engagement to planning your next event, committees play an essential role in the operation of associations. However, finding volunteers and keeping them committed can often be the biggest obstacle to success. While some organizations may opt to appoint committee members, this can impact your diversity efforts and prevent new members or young professionals from getting involved.

So how can you boost committee engagement? Here are four strategies to try in your organization. 

Related: What You Need to Know About Association Committees Learn More >

1. Upgrade Your Application Process 

While association committees are largely volunteer-based, your organization should still be putting thought into how they find those volunteers and who they put on committees, mainly because their work impacts your members. Building and improving committee engagement starts by finding members that understand their undertaking. 

You should have well-thought-out descriptions for the roles that include as much information as possible. Things like “how often the group meets, what types of projects they're working on and how time-consuming they're going to be,” says Merrill Green, Member Engagement Manager for the Emergency Nurses Association

Additionally, you want to be sure your committee members have the skillset required for specific projects. For example, if the committee is tasked with running editorial for the organization, you may want to ask for writing samples or even a quick editing test. The point is, you want members who will connect with the work they're doing to help make engagement a much easier process. 

Specificity Doesn't Mean Exclusion 

Association leaders may be concerned that adding specifics and requirements to a committee role description can become a barrier for members. And depending on the verbiage you use, it can be. 

Luckily, there are a few ways to solve this. 

Not only should you have a range of committee roles that work for all experience levels, but you should also be clear on skills that are must-haves and nice to have. Similarly, if you want association newcomers or young professionals to join committees, spend time reaching out to those audiences.  

2. Spend Time Onboarding

Now that you’ve found that ideal candidate for your committee, you want to start them off on the right foot. Most associations will have a contact for committee members – whether a staffer or someone on the board of directors. So, one of the first places to start onboarding is with a welcome letter. 

Personify shares a few key points you should be adding to your email or letter, including: 

  • Explain how committees are essential to your organization. 
  • A few points as to why you chose them to join your committee. 
  • Key responsibilities you would want them to take on. 
  • A schedule for upcoming meetings and details on how to join. 
  • Contact information for both yourself and the head of the committee. 

Outside of your welcome letter, you should also provide an orientation for new committee members. What is the overarching plan for the association? What are some key member data points they should know? How can their involvement in the committee have an impact? 

Boosting committee engagement means ensuring those volunteers are invested in their roles, understand their impact and feel connected and appreciated by the organization. 

Related: Steal the Template: Welcome Letter to New Members Learn More >

3. Dial In Priorities and Outcomes

Just like intentionality with role descriptions can help boost committee engagement, so can goals. When forming a committee, you should have a solid understanding of why the committee is being created and use goal setting to ensure your organization is growing. 

“As the chair of the committee, I really focused on just three priorities for 2022,” says  Dana Johnston, Senior Manager of Convention Operations and Meetings for the Infectious Disease Society of America. “That helped the volunteers we had (understand) this is what we're doing. We're not going to do ten things. We're going to do three, and we're going to do them well.”

Once your committee has a mandate, they can more easily formulate a plan that’s broken into much more manageable tasks.  

4. Facilitate Better Meetings

While you should allow your association committees to work autonomously, a staff member should sit in to offer guidance or even handle the meeting minutes. However, there may be an opportunity to have a more active role in the meeting should your committee need it. 

For example, the staff member can start every meeting with some updates on important data points like member retention, new members or recent attendance trends for events to offer some insight into the health of the organization. 

However, it doesn't always have to be so serious. 

“We do whines and shines in the very beginning. People just talk about what they're happy about and what went wrong in their day,” Green Says. “It's a great opportunity to break the ice and get your committee engaged.”

From there, you allow the committee to do their thing – from brainstorming to status updates on projects – the more they’re allowed to work independently, the easier it is for original ideas and creative thinking to take hold. 

Bonus – Have a Backup Plan  

Of course, even with the best committee engagement plan in place, things happen, and there may come a time when your committee members simply stop communicating or being involved. 

“It's hard not to take it personally, because you feel like, ‘oh, they're just ignoring me,’” says Johnston. “But they're probably not. Maybe they had an emergency, maybe something's going on in their life, maybe they just can't handle it. I don't know why they don't tell you that, but it's certainly a struggle.” 

So how do you prevent member ghosting from impacting your committee engagement? 

  • Use shareable platforms like Google Docs so you can easily have access to work, even if they stop communicating. 
  • Keep tabs on projects so you can identify when there might be a problem on the horizon. 
  • Give them an out. If there’s a trend of missed deadlines and meetings, simply offer to take work off their plate. 

Set Your Committees Up For Success

For association leaders, it’s important to remember that volunteers form your committees. While they’re dedicated to your organization, they also have other responsibilities that can sometimes get in the way of their commitment. 

That’s why being purposeful with your committee engagement plan can empower members and create a track record for dependable and long-serving members. 

Whether you’re spending time improving your role descriptions so they know exactly what they’re getting into, helping them get onboarded, or providing smart goals and initiatives to help streamline their meetings and work, purposeful planning can make a huge difference.

Jose Triana
Post by Jose Triana
August 9, 2022
Jose Triana is a writer and creative focused on helping purpose-driven organizations learn and find value online. When he isn't working on content, you can catch him going for a run or resting with a good book.