“We need a task force to review our committee structure,” board members quipped.

The issue in this association is the existence of 75 committees. They built up over decades without a review of purpose and effectiveness.

Committees have important roles; engaging members, developing leaders, and producing results to support board and staff.

Board members explained, “Committee chairs have held their positions for years and will not secede.” “We tried to reduce the number of committees, but nobody wanted to give up their turf.” “It’s too political to touch.”

“Committees that are not aligned with an association’s goals can drain time and energy from the important work of staff and volunteers. Conversely, committees that have a clear purpose can play a vital role in helping an association fulfill its mission,” explains Tom Agnew, Ed.D.,Associate Executive Director, Global Development, Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG).

Sunset Process

Governments use a “sunset process” to regularly review agencies and laws. The private sector does similar when a product or service is no longer sufficiently profitable or when a company changes its focus.

Associations should review the committee structure on a periodic basis, say every five years. The task is to analyze committees to identify those that add value from those that are unneeded, ineffective or a liability.

Check alignment by creating a chart with the main goals listed at the top of each column. Under each goal, list the committees that fit. A goal without any committees is problematic. Maintain a balance of committees across the strategic goals.

Committees' Principles

These principles apply to nearly every association and chamber.

  • Committees are a great way to engage members. Conversely, they can repel volunteers who find the meetings a waste of their time.
  • Committees get their authority from the board, bylaws, and policies. They do not have authority to speak for the organization or contract on its behalf.
  • Committees are meant to supplement the work of the board and staff. A committee should not be a drain on resources.
  • Committees advance the mission and goals. Seldom should a committee sit down to ask, “What do you want to do this year.” They are charged with strategies from the strategic plan.

Review Process

In reviewing the committees, be sure to remove personalities. It is not about a person, it’s about the rationale and return on investment.

Ironically, it may require a task force to review and sunset committees. The task is to analyze structure, efficiency, outcomes, costs, information flow, etc. to make recommendations to retain, revamp, merge, or eliminate.

Alignment: Committees should align with goals in the strategic plan. Their initiatives advance elements of the plan.

Asset or Liability: A committee should produce results, or is it a liability, using up time, resources and causing risk for the organization.

Composition: The committee represents diverse opinions of the membership. Too many committees are made up of only one or two persons.

Innovation: A committee should identify issues and offer solutions. It must be innovative and strategic rather than identifying a problem and admitting defeat.

Meetings: Meetings should be efficient and produce results. Minutes should reflect significant progress. The chair must communicate a vision of what a successful year looks like. Rules of order and protocols are respected.

Performance: Does the committee use performance metrics to gauge its work? KPIs should be a part of every project, including accountability and timelines.

Pet Project: Was the committee formed for a pet project that should have been sunset at the end of its useful life?

Purpose Statement: Each committee has a clear and understandable purpose statement to frame its work.

Reporting: Committees make recommendations to the board when new ideas and resources are necessary. Their reporting mechanisms should be efficient for the board to understand, including how success will be measured.

Results: Does the committee generate revenue? Has it created content or programs that add value?

Structure: Committees must fit within the structure and work under the guidelines of bylaws and policies.

Sustainability: Chairs usually serve for a year. How long has the chair had the seat? If he or she departed, would a successor be able to advance its purpose and projects?

Staffing: Staff support a committee with resources, reports, agenda development and minutes. Some committees manage themselves without a reliance on staff.

No matter the number of committees, a review of their structure and effectiveness is prudent. If there is a recommendation to eliminate some committees, be ready to grieve.