Beating Burnout: Taking Control Of Volunteer Committees
Beating Burnout: Taking Control Of Volunteer Committees

* Editor’s Note: This column was written by A.J. Steinberg, CFRE, and drawn from her session at AFP ICON titled: “How to Lead Volunteer Committees To Success”

Are you suffering from volunteer committee burnout? Do you feel the frustration of working with committees far outweighs the benefits your organization receives from them? If so, you are not alone. 

Many nonprofit professionals feel discouraged when trying to manage volunteer committees. Common complaints from staff members range from disengaged committee members, to rambling distractions during meetings, to the squandered time scrambling to cover tasks that volunteers failed to complete.

The good news is there are simple leadership strategies your organization can implement which will turn once-frustrating committee interactions into rewarding work experiences for both your staff and volunteers.

However, to be successful with your committees you need to start at the beginning of your committee planning, even before you even recruit your first committee members.


Define Your Committees’ Objective

Too often nonprofits jump head-first into recruiting committee members before defining the committee’s goals and responsibilities. This is like hiring an employee without first creating a job description.

There are several types of volunteer committees, and each one is best suited for a specific objective. The two most common types of volunteer committees are inclusive volunteer committees and high-profile volunteer committees.

The inclusive volunteer committee is an opportunity for almost any of your supporters to lend a hand to help. These types of committees can include volunteers from almost any of your supporter demographics. These committee members will be helping with events that are family or community oriented, such as a free community festival or church potluck dinner.

High-profile volunteer committees work on events and projects that have a higher price tag or donation level. These will be smaller committees with members who can access high-net worth individuals and assets. An example of this would be a gala committee.

Nonprofits have a need for both of these committee types, but it is critical to the success of the committee to match the proper volunteer members to each committee type.


Create a Committee Task Outline

After you have defined your objectives for assembling this committee, you will determine exactly what you want the volunteer committee members to accomplish and create a Committee Task Outline.

Start by identifying which duties your staff will handle. Typically tasks such as budgeting, marketing, communications, and donor stewardship are managed by the nonprofit. After you have determined what will be overseen by your organization make a detailed list of the jobs you would like to hand off to the volunteer committee.

You will use this list to create a detailed Committee Task Outline. This outline clearly explains each of the committee’s responsibilities, including a detailed description of each committee duty and the anticipated time frame for its’ completion. This outline is useful both for onboarding committee members as well as monitoring the committee’s overall progress during the coming months.

At the top of this task outline place your mission statement and a few lines about the positive impact this committee will have for your organization. This reminds volunteers the importance and value of their volunteer efforts.


Recruit the Right Committee Members

Once you have created your Committee Task Outline you are ready to identify and recruit your committee members. Often organizations just repeatedly ask the same few people to volunteer again, and again, and again for their committees. This may seem an easy route to go, but it is not an ideal way to assemble a superstar committee team.

The best way to identify your dream team committee is to make a list of your loyal, long-term volunteer committee members and add a separate list of newer supporters who could potentially join your committee. These additional people will bring new assets (meaning contacts, potential guests, donated items, etc.) to your committee and event. 

By keeping the same committee members year-after-year without adding new members, you run the risk of burning out not only the volunteers but also their personal contacts who have been asked multiple times for donations and support. New committee members expand your organization’s potential for brand-new donors and their fresh enthusiasm can re-energize an unmotivated committee.

Once you determine potential committee members contact each prospect individually and let them know you would be honored to have them sit on this committee. Share with them the vision of what the committee will accomplish. Follow up by emailing them your committee task outline so they can review your organization’s expectations and time commitments for committee members.


Organization, Communication, Appreciation

These three steps are key to good committee leadership and will transform the meeting experience for both the members and you!

Step 1: Organization

Being organized gives your group confidence that you are competent, dedicated, and respect their time.

Being organized includes preparing in advance for committee meetings. For each meeting create an easy-to-follow agenda that clearly outline major topics of discussion and denote which person will be leading each portion of the meeting. 

Being organized also means double-checking that your agenda has all the discussion topics included. Send your agenda out the group several days before each meeting and ask for any additions or changes. Sending this in advance serves the two-fold purpose of both ensuring an accurate agenda and gently reminding committee members of the upcoming meeting.

Follow-up is an important component of being organized. Detailed notes should be taken during each committee meeting, and when the meeting is over type up the notes and email them to the entire committee. This ensures all members, even those who weren’t at the meeting, are in the loop as to what was discussed and decided. As an added bonus, these follow up notes can be used as a to-do list of tasks which need to be completed between now and the next committee meeting.

Step 2: Communication

Good communication includes not only verbal skills but written skills as well. Your written communications should clearly outline expectations and keep the entire committee informed on decisions and updates.

Between meetings it is important to remember that even though you are aware of your committee’s progress, most of your committee doesn’t know what is happening from one meeting to the next. Sharing information is essential to making every committee member feel a part of the team. 

Ideally you should create an email group contact for each committee. This ensures you don’t accidentally leave someone off any email chains. You should decide whether you will send your emails as a blind copy or a regular email to the whole group. Some committee leaders chose the less cumbersome BCC method while others prefer to encourage interaction between committee members.

Reminders about upcoming committee meetings and deadlines are key communications for your group. Never assume that everyone remembers and has noted the date of upcoming meetings. It is up to you as the leader to remind the committee of all meetings and important deadlines on the horizon.

Also, it is important to clearly communicate schedule changes to your committee. There is nothing worse than showing up to a meeting that was cancelled, and you had never been notified!

Step 3: Appreciation

Every committee is an opportunity to build stronger bond between your organization and committee members. Statistics show that folks who volunteer have a far higher degree of loyalty and monetary participation with organizations they spend time helping!

It is important to remember that volunteers are giving us their most precious resource — their time. We must not only express our appreciation verbally, but we also need to convey it by how we treat them.

An essential way we show appreciation is by respecting their time. This means arriving early to committee meetings and having agendas and handouts in place before members show up. Greet the committee as they come in and thank each one for taking the time to be there. 

You can also show your appreciation by making sure committee meetings follow the agenda and don’t veer off into unrelated tangents. It is up to you as the leader to keep the conversation focused on your agenda. This is one leadership skill makes all the difference to your committee’s overall volunteer experience.

And, finally, say thank you to the group as often as possible in as many ways as you can. Thank them all at the start and end of emails. Have words of thanks printed at the top of your meeting agenda. Send them notes of appreciation in the mail.

If your volunteer committee feels appreciated and confident in your leadership skills, they are far more likely to work as an efficient team eager to help you and your organization succeed in whatever tasks you have set them out to accomplish.


A.J. Steinberg, CFRE, is founder of Queen Bee Fundraising in Calabasas, Calif. Her email is [email protected] and the website is www.QueenBeeFundraising.com