Using Committees and Volunteers

Photo of American Fisheries Society Committees and Volunteers

Credit: American Fisheries Society

Creating Committees

Committees are the backbone of strong volunteer organizations.  The effective use of volunteers in partnership with staff brings about need programs.  When committees understand their role, have a clearly defined direction, an enabling staff, and organized and experienced leadership, there are no limits to their effectiveness.  There are eight steps in accomplishing a successful subunit committee structure.  The eight steps are:

  1. Analyzing the subunit’s needs
  2. Writing committee guidelines
  3. Committee member assignments
  4. Recruiting the right people
  5. Planning and accountability
  6. Monitoring accomplishments
  7. Evaluations
  8. Recognition

Remember, committees are only as good as the people and plans that guide them.

For detailed instructions regarding committee formation and planning, read the Guidance Document on Committees (PDF).

Using Volunteers

Rosenberg, L.  1994.  Working with Volunteers: Handling the “What’s in it for me?” Question.  Fisheries.

In today’s society, volunteers think hard before they commit their time and efforts to a professional society such as the American Fisheries Society (AFS). Those days when people would blindly work “for the cause” or to “give something back to their society” are gone. Today, if you want people to volunteer, you must be able to answer one basic question: “What’s in it for me?” Or, put another way: “What will my contribution of time and energy do to advance the Society’s goals in which I’m interested?”

It isn’t the amount of time they would spend volunteering that bothers them — it’s the amount they’re afraid they’re going to waste. So if you want to put your volunteers to good use, let them know what they will get in return for their investment of time.

What do volunteers want? Recognition, rewards, and a sense of accomplishment. Volunteers want to do something worthwhile and do it well. They also want someone to recognize their contribution appropriately, to make them believe they are “successful” volunteers. Sometimes a volunteer leader only has to say, “Thank you — you did a great job,” but that is a minimum!

If you give your volunteers a job to do, you must do everything possible to show them the job is meaningful, worthy of their time, and an important contribution to the Society’s success. Make sure you give them a “volunteer-sized” piece of the action along with the resources to accomplish this task. This might mean breaking a large job into several smaller ones handled by one or more volunteers with a series of deadlines. It might also mean providing training on computers or other equipment to ensure they not only have the resources but the know-how to do the job right.

Once you’ve given volunteers that ability to succeed, you should provide recognition. By definition, volunteers don’t get paid. That makes achieving success and gaining recognition all the more important. Creating a specific program to give volunteers the feeling that time spent for the Society is worthwhile means recruiting properly. This is the first step in setting volunteers on the road to success. Before asking someone to serve as a committee chair, ask yourself what type of person does it take? What skills are needed? As a leader, you need to figure out who closely fits the profile. For example, Richard Gregory has been appointed chair of the Task Force on Advocacy. As a past president of the Society, he is aware of the mission and goals of the organization in advancing conservation of fishery resources and promoting the fisheries profession. Second, identify the key skills and characteristics of the volunteer position, such as solid writing ability, willingness to make phone calls, ability to maintain membership files, or organizational experience. Third, recruit people who have a good chance to succeed in their volunteer roles, not just people who will say yes. Make sure you’re not putting a shy, introverted person into a spotlight position that requires activities such as working a room of strangers.

Fourth, you should orient your volunteers by reinforcing how their particular jobs fit into the Society’s overall long-range plan. If possible, hold an orientation session for all volunteers. The benefits of holding such an orientation include providing an opportunity early in the year to meet and get to know each other; establishing a cohesive, well-understood plan of action; introducing volunteers to other people in their professions who have made the same commitments; and gaining a better understanding of the goals and objectives they are working toward.

Training is frequently skipped and its value underestimated. Training not only can help convince members to continue volunteering but can show them you are willing to “invest” in teaching them to learn and volunteer well. By training volunteers, you build an active, dedicated, and successful leadership corps ready to take on future challenges, and the skills learned are transferrable into their professional lives. Such skills could include managing time, running committee meetings effectively, public speaking, becoming proficient on a new software program, or gaining project management experience.

If you’ve properly recruited, oriented, and trained your volunteers, then you should have confidence in their ability to succeed. This means trusting them to do the job. Make sure they understand what they are supposed to do and let them do it, perhaps checking in once in a while to monitor progress. Give your volunteers a sense of accomplishment by giving them feedback. Periodic reviews help identify progress and alleviate problems for volunteers before the individuals “fail.”

The final step is to reward good performance with recognition. It’s the volunteer’s paycheck. If you go to all the trouble of making your volunteers successful and don’t give them the recognition they want and deserve, you’ve wasted a lot of time and energy because they won’t come back. Recognition doesn’t have to be a plaque, trophy, formal letter, or certificate — it can be a simple,
hand-written note or a firm handshake with a sincere “thank you.”

Each person gives his or her time and effort to the Society for different reasons but all need the sense that they’ve undertaken a worthwhile project and accomplished something. Think of ways to give your volunteers what they need, and you’ll find that working with volunteers really is worth the effort.