Committee Descriptions

Committees, in well-functioning organizations, each has a defined area of responsibility – its reason for existence.  (Note: this is also true of one-person committees, or jobs.)  And the responsibilities are documented in writing, and agreed to by both the committee and the overseeing body (often the Board), with periodic agreed updates.

The attached is a basic format that is helpful in defining a Society’s committees. The temptation when describing committees is to spend time describing how the committee accomplishes its job.  But what’s important is what the committee is supposed to accomplish, and what would look like success to the rest of the Society (and to any governing body like a program council or board).

It’s also important to define the main interactions with other committees and individuals within the Society, to make sure that those others are aware of the interdependencies of their responsibilities.

It’s also very helpful to think through what the member qualifications need to be, to have a well-functioning committee and to make recruiting easier.  On a finance committee, you want members who understand what a balance sheet is and how to comprehend what’s there; you want members who know the difference between expenses and income, and assets and liabilities (or are capable of learning and willing to learn).  You probably want at least one or two who understand how to reconcile a checkbook, or who are familiar with accounting software and its pluses and minuses. On a committee that manages the Ethics for Children program, you want people who understand the developmental needs of children at different stages (or are capable of learning and willing to learn).  On a greeting team, you want warm, welcoming people.

Connected with that: what’s the term you expect someone to serve on the committee? Some committees take a year or two for people to really get up to speed (an Ethics for Children Curriculum Committee, for instance).  Others may be simple to learn what’s needed, and are good places to put newer people for their early involvements — and then encourage them to move on and make room for even newer people.  Are you asking for a year at a time? Do you expect people to move into mentor roles and then leave the committee at some point?  Is it really an appointment for life, or totally without expectations? Clarify your expectations.

What’s most important, though, is to not specify the “how,” which is the part most likely to change.  Does it really matter if you make the coffee in back room #1 or #2?  It just matters that there are goodies and beverages for participants after platform.  The “how” is still important as mentoring to new people and to fine tune or innovate for effectiveness, but getting the “what” and “who” down is the crucial part most Societies miss.

The “what” is how the “how” gets assessed, so start with the “what.”

It’s also a lot faster that way to document the committees, and the descriptions go out of date much less quickly.