At the risk of inducing year-end stress, we ask you this: Are you and your board considering candidates to fill committee leadership slots in the new year? While you still have some time before selecting these individuals and scheduling new leader orientation meetings, it is the perfect time of year to evaluate your onboarding process and dust off stale documents. Starting a new volunteer leader off on the right foot is vital to getting the work of the association done in a focused and intentional (Oh, and legal!) manner.
Now, where to start? Well, first, here are a couple of general considerations that could pay off:
- Instead of an in-office orientation (cough cough, boring), schedule an orientation lunch at a restaurant of the committee chair’s choosing (somewhere reasonable, of course). This is more likely to reduce the instances of rescheduling, while fostering a fun conversation and memorable bonding experience.
- Include the vice chair! While it should never be assumed that a vice chair will be the next chair (more on that soon), it’s important the second-in-command hear the same spiel as the chair in case they need to step into the big chair at meetings or events. And, if the vice chair does prove to be a promising option for future leadership, succession should be much smoother.
Additionally, when it comes to tightening up the document that accompanies your orientation meetings, there is important info that should be considered for inclusion in the staff-created document. Keep what is written brief. The document should serve as a resource to the committee leaders. During your orientation, you can expand on the details and should entertain questions.
Association Mission - Seems obvious, but the mission of the organization should lead any and all discussions familiarizing members with servant leadership. Your new leadership should not only know the mission and the values it represents, they should also understand how their service lends to the fulfillment of that mission.
Strategic Goals - Much like understanding the mission, knowing and respecting the organization’s yearly strategic goals ensures committee leaders inspire work that fits within a larger framework outlined by the board. The last thing your organization needs is a renegade committee lead who tries executing work that doesn’t lend to the organization's annual goals and ultimate vision. When you share the goals with your committee leaders, encourage questions and be transparent in your answers. This will foster curiosity and interest in the larger picture.
Committee Success Plan - Equip your committee leaders with the tools and knowledge they need to find success within their committee. Part of this is helping them understand the work tasked to their committee during the upcoming year and keeping that work within scope. With many committee leadership posts lasting a short period of time--one to two years--consistently reaching milestones that can be built upon by new leadership in subsequent years sets the association up for success long term.
Leadership Responsibilities - Clearly outline the responsibilities of your committee leads (i.e., who does what?). This is especially important when you rely on your committee chair and vice chair to work closely together. Encourage collaboration and ownership. During orientation, outline the specific responsibilities that fall on the chair versus what is left to the vice chair--and even further, what tasks are best assigned to committee members--so that all parties can avoid overlap and confusion later.
The Board/Committee/Staff Dynamic - Similar to understanding the committee leadership responsibilities, it’s important your committee leads have a general understanding of the work each representative group does. The best way I’ve heard it put is that the board decides what to do; the staff and committees determine how to do that work. Going a level deeper, the committee leaders and members do the work with guidance from the staff who will have the strategic knowledge necessary to help educate decision making.
Financial Policies - While it is probably not necessary to familiarize your committee leaders with your association’s full budget, they should generally understand sources of revenue and resource constraints. And they should certainly know what they are and are not permitted to authorize or approve financially. For example, if all expenses are to run through staff, tell them that bluntly. Also communicate that they may be responsible for any unauthorized expenses. Don’t beat around the bush on this one.
Communication Policies - Make sure your committee leaders are familiar with your association’s media policy. Typically, it’s a best practice for all communications/PR requests to be run through your organization’s executive director or communications manager. That way, it can be fielded and responded to properly and consistently. The same goes for internal communications. Use discretion when deciding whether you allow your committee leaders to communicate directly with committee members. A best practice could be to either send communications on behalf of your committee chair or proofread and approve their editorial before they hit send.
Expectations - Do you want your vice chair to automatically move into the chair position? If so, after how many years/terms? And what happens if the vice chair has no desire to move into a leadership role? Committee leader orientation is the perfect time to discuss these intricacies. If auto succession isn’t a thing your association entertains, tell your committee leaders that. It might be a relief to them that they aren’t on the hook for a multi-year leadership deal when the engagement is re-evaluated each year/term.
Conflict of Interest - Finally, come to your orientation meeting with copies of conflict of interest forms in hand. However, don’t make your committee leaders sign them on the spot. Rather, have them think about any potential conflicts, record them and return a signed form within 48 hours of your meeting. Important note: even if there are NO conflicts, a form should be returned noting that fact and kept on file.
Now let’s take a step back for a second. Let’s say you’re struggling to find volunteer leaders in the first place. What then? For tips on volunteer recruitment, onboarding, and retention, check out our Ultimate Guide to Volunteer Management!