Tips for building committees

by Gwenyth Loose, CPRP, Executive Director, York County Rail Trail Authority

Photo by Artem Saranin on Pexels.com

Recently, I proposed to our chairman a new committee to be charged with reorganizing and growing our Friends of York County Rail Trails. His response, “Won’t that make more work for you?” gave me pause to recalculate and rethink my idea.

Do committees facilitate or complicate our parks & recreation work? How can we empower committees to take on specific work and keep them on task? And most importantly, as we emerge from months of pandemic “numbness,” how do we energize our committees without depleting our own reserves of energy?

Looking over my own experiences as director of the York County Rail Trail Authority, I offer a few strategies.

  1. Clearly communicate the committee’s objective(s). Write a concise description of the objective(s) and review and revise with your board. Review the objective(s) annually with the committee members.
  2. Establish core representatives while allowing for open seats on the committee. Set a maximum size for the committee, and identify specific skills, talents, and experiences needed in order for the committee to succeed in its work.  Consider a few seats on the committee for those who may be limited in their core function but are great champions of your agency and its work. Establish procedures for bringing members onto the committee.
  3. Establish a committee organization. No need for formal officers, but it is helpful to recruit a chairman to keep meetings focused on the agenda. A secretary may relieve you of writing and circulating meeting notes.
  4. Set and publish meeting schedules. Establish a regular meeting day and time, and determine how often the committee will meet. Popular meeting schedules are monthly or quarterly, depending on the amount of work to be assigned to the committee. Email a meeting reminder to the members approximately one week prior to each meeting. Include a tentative agenda with this reminder. Print the annual meeting schedule at the bottom of each agenda as a reminder.
  5. Set agendas that are manageable, meaningful and “meaty.” Keep meeting length to 1 or 1 ½ hours. Start promptly and finish on time. Indicate agenda items that require committee action. Acknowledge with your thanks those whose schedules require that they will arrive late or leave early.
  6. Show appreciation-Demonstrate value. Little ceremonies, certificates of appreciation, and celebrating results are meaningful ways to remind committee members of their value to the agency. Gather relevant statistics, such as number of attendees or funds raised at a special event, and share with the committee. Share successes and collectively evaluate shortcomings – both are valuable experiences.
  7. Capitalize on the social benefits of committee work. Serving on a committee is a great opportunity to make new friends with those that often have common interests. Encourage those little conversations before and after meetings. Serve refreshments 15 minutes before the meeting. Plan a park or trail tour in place of a meeting, or hold a meeting at a park pavilion.
  8. Never stop recruiting. Engage current members in recruiting new members. Invite prospective members to attend a meeting or two as a guest, encouraging them to then speak to the chairman if they have interest in joining the committee. Introduce a level of comfort for those who may want to learn more about the committee without an obligation to join. And actively engage in recruitment methods focused on diversity across the entire population that your agency serves.

Our parks and recreation work is always evolving, as we strive to keep our projects and programs relevant and inviting to the public. Committees require careful guidance, nurturing, and oversight. In exchange, committees can take on specific tasks to reduce our workloads, expand our program offerings, and even increase revenue. In short, committees are worth our investment of time and resources, and those who volunteer to serve on committees enrich our parks and recreation community.

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