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How to Organize Nonprofit Volunteer Committees

Many nonprofits invite their volunteers to participate in committees. These committees enable volunteers to offer their best skills and learn how to do new things. An advantage of forming committees is that it reinforces the social benefits of volunteering. As committee members get to know one another and figure out how to manage their tasks successfully, you or your volunteer coordinator can step back and let them take full responsibility.

Here’s a fictitious example that gives you an idea of how to organize committees: A small nonprofit called the Sunshine and Health Project provides telephone referral and information sources for people seeking help with weight loss. It was started by three people who had lost weight and decided to help others do the same.

A ten-member board of directors provides governance for Sunshine and Health Project and undertakes key volunteer roles in the organization. The board forms the following committees, which are each chaired by a board member but made up of individuals who provide volunteer services:

  • Telephone committee: Sunshine and Health Project provides most of its services via telephone. The office receives about 60 calls each day from people seeking information about weight loss and referrals to health clinics and counselors. The telephones are answered 12 hours a day, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday. Two volunteers share responsibility for the phones in three-hour shifts.

    The nonprofit needs 40 volunteers each week to answer phones and provide information. Sunshine and Health Project also needs backup volunteers in case someone is ill or can’t make his shift for some other reason.

  • Program committee: This committee researches programs to which callers can be referred, maintains the database containing referral information, and provides training to telephone volunteers. Committee members include one physician and two registered nurses, all of whom provide professional oversight.

  • Publicity committee: Sunshine and Health Project uses several methods to tell the public that its services are available. The publicity committee prepares and sends news releases and creates and distributes public service announcements to radio stations. In addition, the committee operates a speakers’ bureau of people who have benefited from Sunshine and Health Project’s services.

    The committee has also developed a website, a Twitter feed connected to any news that is posted on the website, and a Facebook page; each of these outlets offers basic information about weight loss and invites readers to sign up for a monthly e-mail newsletter. The website maintains links to recommended programs in cities across the United States and Canada.

  • Fundraising committee: Sunshine and Health Project raises funds in several different ways, including family-oriented walk-a-thons, e-mail appeal letters sent to people who have joined its contact list, and gifts from businesses promoting a healthy lifestyle. Committee members coordinate the fundraising events, write and transmit appeal letters, and make personal calls on business sponsors. They call upon all volunteers to make personal gifts, identify possible donors, and provide contacts.

  • Administration committee: Sunshine and Health Project receives individual donations from people who use its services, grants from foundations, and limited support from the health department in the city in which it’s based. The administration committee is responsible for maintaining the organization’s financial books, writing thank-you letters to donors, and maintaining a database of past donors.

You may discover other tasks that can be assigned to additional volunteer committees. The kinds of jobs that need to be done vary, depending on the type of service your organization provides. The point to remember is that volunteer work needs to be organized (and supervised) in much the same way that paid work is organized.

In an all-volunteer organization, the responsibility for ensuring that the work is finished appropriately resides with the board of directors. The board must be committed to finding new volunteers and supervising their work. And board members must be ready to step in to do a job if no volunteers can be found.

Board members who also serve as program volunteers must remember to keep their roles as board members (governance and fiduciary) separate from their roles as program volunteers. In the latter case, the volunteers are operating like staff, not board members. Yes, there is a difference.

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