Several months ago a celebratory email appeared in my inbox, and it made me furious. I was congratulated for being “selected” to serve on a legislative advisory committee for a dairy organization along with several other individuals.

To entice my agreement, it was billed as a position with little time commitment but high importance.

Honored as I was, I was mad that I was selected, mad that someone took the time to ask me, and mad that it was another do-nothing committee kept in motion due to tradition.

A few years ago, I sat through this committee’s annual meeting (the only time this committee meets each year, living up to the "low-input" promise) for over 4 hours. We worked hard debating and finalizing about 40 resolutions to make them more modern and useful. About 95% of them were unanimously approved during another hour-long session in front of the membership body at large. It was kind of fun to see the democratic process in action.

Then what?

This organization did not have a lobbyist, did not talk about the resolutions the rest of the year, and as far as I know did not forward them to legislators or even their own national organization. Granted, they were posted on the organization’s website and in the next newsletter.

But where did my 5-hours go? Or the collective hundreds or thousands of hours from everyone involved in years gone by? 

Turn it around
Are you on any ineffective, underperforming, or simply laughable organization boards or committees? Maybe it is time to make a change.

Yes, sometimes tradition trumps practicality. Obviously, you cannot be a dictator and make each organization to your own liking (well, it seems some people think they can) unless you want to suffer repercussions of lost friendships and banishments. But, you can ask the questions:

  • Is it really best for us to hold our meetings at 8:30 p.m. while simultaneously trying to entice new, young members with growing families to join our “thriving” organization?
  • What were the results of us holding this committee meeting previously, or what tangible results do we expect in the future?
  • Was a committee of 28 people the right number to make these decisions?

What have you done for me lately?
Helping prove that it is not just me seeing many organizations outlive or stagnate in their useful lives, is the study “Generations and the Future of Association Participation” published in 2006 by the William E. Smith Institute for Association Research. 

Contrary to popular belief that young groups just are not “joiners,” the study found that generations “X” and “Y” — those born between about 1961 and 1981 and between 1981 and 2000, respectively — will in fact join organizations, but only those organizations smart enough to figure out what their members want. That means, matching your organization’s benefits with prospective members’ personal values. Hmmm, that sounds similar to our best practices for talking to consumers who buy our products, right?

For me personally, time is the most important thing in my life when it comes to saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to another meeting or membership. I have a young family, demanding work schedule, and still want to have a few minutes a day with an open schedule. In the case above, I emailed both the organization’s employee and “selected” chair of the committee. It turned out, the chair was thinking the same thing and we are one committee fewer in this world. 

That’s an idea — a committee to get rid of committees. Where do I sign up?