When managing association finances, most people are familiar with the concept of zero-based budgeting. With a zero-based budget approach, every expense must be justified before adding it to the budget.

The purpose is to reduce spending by looking at where costs can be trimmed. For an association, the justification for the budget should be closely tied to the strategic plan. The same process can be applied to committees.

Application to Committees

The phrase zero-based committees was coined by a director at the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association. At the strategic planning retreat, he suggested, “We should approach our committee appointments from a zero-based perspective.”

The board had set four goals in its three-year plan. It wanted to be certain each goal was aligned with volunteer work groups (committees and task forces). A goal without an associated work group is likely to suffer.

In this association, there were a dozen committees. The board perused the list asking why some committees existed. The director suggested after the retreat committees should be analyzed and aligned.

Zero-Based Committees

Follow these steps for a zero-based committee process.

1. Set the Goals — Create a strategic plan. Most plans have three to six goals or core competencies. The plan sets the direction for which staff and committees will work to advance the programs and priorities.

2. Analyze Committees — Inventory existing committees. Are they long-term standing committees or short-term task forces? Each should have a description or purpose statement. How long have the chairs been in place and what have they accomplished?

3. Merge, Eliminate or Enhance — Through the analysis there may be a need to merge or eliminate committees. It can be difficult if the group has existed for a long time but has little benefit. Generally, as organization resources grow (finances, staff) there is less reliance on committees.

4. Align Committees — From the analysis, decide which committees align with the goals in the plan. Some committees may relate to more than one goal.

5. Continuous Evaluation ­­— Track the progress of the committees and strategic plan. Encourage collaboration among committees. Promote accountability by setting performance measures. At the start of the next year or a new strategic plan, return to the zero-based committee process.

Example of Committee Alignment

Let’s say the board has created a strategic plan with four goals. Three of the goals deliver value to the membership while the fourth goal concerns infrastructure and operational excellence.

At the retreat or upon conclusion the officers should analyze the committees. Do task forces need to be appointed? Which committees align with the four goals? Are there goals that have no related committees to advance the projects and priorities?

Here’s an example of the four goals in the strategic plan and the new alignment of committees.

Committees that don’t align with the new strategic plan will be eliminated or merged. This process facilitates redeploying and repurposing committees. For committees that are eliminated, there may be a period of “grief,” but the enhanced efficiency will be appreciated.

Advantages of the zero-based committee process are alignment of volunteer efforts with goals, volunteers understanding their purpose, and reduction of committees with minimal impact.