On being a volunteer

I sit on two committees as a volunteer, there are a lot of similarities between the two committees, both have buildings and people to consider, both have funding issues that need to be considered before even the smallest action is taken and both are made up of mainly volunteers along with a couple of staff of the institutions concerned.

However there the similarities stop. On committee A the meetings are short and to the point – despite the fact that more work is required and more decisions have to made than on committee B. When a certain project is going to have to happen a small working party is created, date for meetings set and the project can be handled by a small group instead of needing to take up main committee time. Communication on committee A is excellent, I always know when and where the meetings are and what is required of me. I leave the meetings of committee A feeling that I have made a positive contribution and know how I can use my skills for the benefit of the group.

The meetings for committee B tend to drag on after their expected finishing time, despite the fact that there is often very little to discuss. Reports from sub committees are read out and then discussed for no obvious reason; the meeting wanders off topic and rarely achieves anything concrete other than to set another meeting date. Communication is poor, and decisions (even just about meeting dates) are hard to come by, as when ‘lesser members’ of the committee make proposals just to try and get things moving, they are put in their place by the more senior members. Important topics are glossed over and those which would be best left to a small working party discussed in great detail. I leave the meetings of committee B feeling frustrated and as if I have just wasted an evening.

I think both of these committees are very important, and I believe that giving some of my time as a volunteer locally is very important. I’ve sat on several committees over the years and know that committee A is actually a very rare thing indeed, but they achieve their success by being business-like about their meetings and appreciating the time that the members are giving up to be on the committee and the valuable skills that they bring. By doing this they make their meetings more effective and also mean that people are more likely to want to remain on the committee as it doesn’t feel like a waste of time.

I’m not a ‘committee person’ however I feel that my skills are more of use in these areas than in making cakes for fundraising for example, which is why I have chosen to volunteer in this way. I do enjoy the challenges – when they are real challenges and not just “how much more of this meeting can I take before I scream”!

John Davies on the 08 Oct 2004:

I’m not a ‘committee person’ either but find myself these days having to chair many!! One thing which helps is having willing and self-aware contributors like yourself involved (in contrast to those who LOVE committees and hearing their own voice often) … hope your blog encourages others to have a go too.

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