One of the best ways to get work done for your nonprofit is with extra hands.
Think about it: You’re one person. You can only do so much.

There’s a limit to the amount of work you can do during the day.

And I’m really sure you have more to do than you can get done.

So, you have choices.

You can:

a)       Work yourself ragged trying to do it all yourself (not a great solution)

b)       Just ignore all the stuff that needs to get done (yeah, right!)

c)       Get help

I vote for C.

Help can come in many forms. You can recruit volunteers or find interns. For lots of things, you can use a committee.

Don’t groan – I’ve got some good stuff here. 😉

What makes a successful fundraising committee

Committees are a great way to involve a lot of people to get things done.

When it’s working, people’s skills are being used, meetings are productive and folks leave energized.

When it doesn’t work, meetings drag on, conversations go off-topic and nothing gets accomplished. It’s not fun and people tend to stop showing up for meetings.

So, how do you create a successful committee?

Start by getting clear and answering these questions:

  • What’s the specific purpose of the committee? Be very clear about what the committee will do (and won’t do). Is the committee meant to plan and execute a special event? Acknowledge donors? Something else? Put the purpose in writing so you can hand it to the committee members.
  • What’s the lifespan of the committee? What’s the start and end date for the committee’s work? Or will it go on indefinitely? Hint: people are more likely to say “yes” when they know when their work will be completed.
  • How many committee members will there be? Will there be lots of people to help or just a few? By the way, the more people there are, the more likely people are to not feel engaged and even drop out. I like 6 to 10 people on a committee, especially for planning an event.
  • Who will lead the committee? By recruiting a committee chair, you’ll get help in forming the committee and recruiting members. That person will set the tone for the group and provide leadership along the way, so choose wisely! Sometimes a great committee chair will appear and other times it’s like pulling teeth to find one. Just don’t give up. The committee won’t function well without a leader.
  • What decisions can the committee make and implement? Will the committee be authorized to spend money? Can they agree to things on behalf of the organization, like hiring a band or reserving a ballroom? Be clear with them on this one so they don’t try to do things they shouldn’t.
  • Who will the committee report to? Staff? Board? Another committee?
  • Will the committee make progress reports? If so, what format will they be in? If you want a committee report at the Board meeting, who will be the committee’s representative? Or can they submit the report in writing instead of in person.
  • How will the committee measure success? This relates back to the purpose of the committee. If it’s to run a special event, then success will be measured in dollars raised and attendance. And maybe sponsorships secured.

Okay, so that’s what makes a committee successful. Now let’s look at what causes them to fail.

Reasons why committees fail

You’ve probably been part of a committee where you were miserable. I certainly have. And it’s no fun.

Let’s look at some reasons why committees fall short.

  • Lack of clarity. When no one is clear what a committee is meant to do, conversations can wander and people leave meetings feeling nothing really got accomplished. Tip: don’t let the committee itself figure out its job. Set it for them.

  • Lack of commitment. People sometimes say “yes” to serving on a committee without really committing to participating, and their behavior proves it – their attendance at meetings will be sporadic and they may agree to take on tasks yet never complete them. It’s frustrating to other committee members when this happens, and it impedes the committee’s progress.

  • Weak leadership. When the committee chair doesn’t have good leadership skills, the committee will flounder. People will tend to insert their own agenda and someone may even try to take over.

  • Bait-and-switch. This happens when you create a committee to work on a project, then you override their decisions, leaving them feeling defeated and powerless. I guarantee you the members will all disappear and not come back!

Tips for making a fundraising committee work

Committees are not created equally – some are great and a lot of fun to serve on, and others bore you to tears. Be purposeful in what you’re putting together and hold an intention to make it as good as it can be for everyone involved.

Here are some tips for making fundraising committees successful:

  • Give new members an orientation. Don’t just throw people in – set them up for success. Give them the tools they need to succeed and explain the who, what, when, and why of the committee.
  • Create an agenda template for the committee. Give the committee an outline for their meetings to help them stay on track.
  • Keep a list of action items. When someone agrees to take on a task, have someone make note of it, then after the meeting, share the entire action item list with the full committee. This helps people remember what they said they’d do and also puts a little peer pressure on them to actually get it done.
  • Thank the members for their service. Regular acknowledgement and maybe even recognition can be powerful. A text, a handwritten note, and even “thank you all for your good work” at a meeting or two can go a long way. If the committee is planning an event, thank them at the event in front of everyone.
  • Make it inclusive. Depending on the purpose of the committee, you may want to invite people from outside the organization to join in. Maybe there’s someone who attended the event last year and would love to help with the planning this year. Maybe there’s a donor who just mentioned that they’d love to get more involved who would be perfect for your committee. Think outside the box so you don’t use the same people over and over (which leads to burnout).
  • Make it fun. The more fun it is, the more people will participate, and they more they’ll enjoy their experience (which means they may do it again!). If appropriate, have a glass of wine at your meeting. Have the meeting onsite at your facility if that helps. Do whatever makes it more fun that just sitting in a board room.