Advancing the Volunteer and Staff Committee Experience 

By Erin Volland, MPA, CAE 

Tiles representing committees

There is a plethora of advice when it comes to the volunteer committee and workgroup experience: Remove committees from the bylaws; Give the Board and staff more control over the work of volunteers; Set up task-oriented and time-limited workgroups; Align volunteer work with the strategic plan. How many associations have done this work?  

With the shift over the past two and half years in how work is completed and managed, it is important to do this analysis now. Were new projects that had to get done added to a standing committee’s charge, or were task forces created to manage them? Is this work still necessary? Can staff do it instead? Should anyone be doing it? 

On the other hand, have you struggled to find work for committees that had to exist because the bylaws said so? Has your organization struggled to find people to volunteer for committees? Do you know why people aren’t stepping up to volunteer? Is it because of the requirements, or perhaps the committee charges, work, and outcomes (or lack thereof)? Are volunteers doing valuable work that you can tie to achievement of the strategic plan and moving the profession forward, or are they creating more work for staff? 

The task of reviewing committee, work groups, and the volunteer experience can seem daunting. However, it is important, necessary work to ensure strong volunteer and staff engagement in the association.

The task of reviewing committee, work groups, and the volunteer experience can seem daunting. However, it is important, necessary work to ensure strong volunteer and staff engagement in the association. Staff create the member and volunteer experience that keeps members renewing and volunteering. They are the ones writing agendas, minutes, and deliverables between meetings, ensuring that volunteers have login access or travel information so they are prepared to meet. And this only outlines a small list of tasks that staff handle to make the volunteer experience seamless. We talk often of the importance of volunteer preparation in predicting success and high-performing volunteer groups. But who is behind that volunteer preparation? Staff.   

5 Ways to Review and Revise Committees

So, the big question is: How do we keep the committee and workgroup experience engaging and motivating? How do we keep it from leading to volunteer and staff burnout? Here are a few suggestions on places to start: 

  1. Review committee charges and ensure they align with strategic initiatives. Sunset or repurpose committees into workgroups or task forces whenever possible. Review bylaws to see if any committees can be moved to Board-owned policies and procedures. There will always be a few operational committees like leadership development, but can you update the charges of these operational committees to include current strategies?   
  2. Prioritize outcomes and metrics to show volunteers and staff how the work they are doing in their committees and workgroups is moving the association, and the profession, forward.  
  3. Review volunteer requirements, competencies, and expectations to serve on a committee, workgroup, or task force. Do you need a minimal number of years of industry experience? Are there volunteer prerequisites? Are there face-to-face meeting requirements, and do they include reimbursement? What are the competencies that are important to drive the group’s charges forward and what expectations will align with the individuals who hold those competencies?  
  4. Review how volunteers are being selected for committees, workgroups, and task forces. Is the leadership development committee making recommendations? Is the president-elect making appointments alone? How is the staff involved in providing their valuable experience leading the group? 
  5. Train and onboard volunteers and staff liaisons. Future board members and CEOs are trained as committee members and staff liaisons. Ensure you set them up for success.  

You can start by choosing one of these five recommendations that seems most valuable or achievable and moving it forward. By addressing these topics over time, you will make great shifts to ensure the volunteer experience is rewarding not just for your volunteers, but for your staff as well. And most importantly, you’ll move the association forward strategically. 

Sound Off on MyForum

Is our organization making strategic changes to its committee and workgroup structure? Join us for a conversation with your peers on MyForum! This members-only discussion board is a great place to bounce around ideas and get inspiration from association professionals in your community.

About the Author

Erin Volland, MPA, CAE, is a senior consultant with Association Management Center (AMC) in Chicago. She can be reached at 

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