3. What is the role of the committee?

But what is it we are actually supposed to be doing?

‘Take a deep breath’. There are probably as many answers to this question as there are committee members. To add to the confusion there are a whole range of idealized lists of ‘duties’ that are promoted, many appropriate only for committees of organisations of a certain size or circumstances. And most committees are made up of individuals who contribute different things (think of it as a team made up of individuals with different attributes rather than a clone army).

What are the important committee roles?

Individuals on a committee may fulfil many roles and come with many different perspectives. In addition the role of the committee varies depending on the stage the organisation is in its lifecycle. This combination of major variables leads to a great deal of confusion and disagreement about the role of the committee. A committee often fulfils a number of functions;

1 A pure ‘governance’ role i.e. directing and controlling the organisation through collective decision making.

2 A pool of expertise and advice i.e. making advice and expertise available to staff and volunteers

3 A management role i.e. to manage one or more staff, volunteers or projects (for instance managing the Coordinator, or managing the production of the newsletter).

4 A work role i.e. actually doing work (staffing a helpline, answering correspondence, changing hearing aid batteries etc).

So which role is the important one?

Those who are directly affected by your activities will value the tangible things that you do (see 2, 3 and 4 in the previous question). However much those roles are valued by others, your key role is governance.

What is the main thing we need to do as a committee?

The key governance role concerns the controlling and directing of your organisation. To do this there must be

1. the opportunity to make collective decisions (meetings).

2. a mechanism for the members (or stakeholders) to elect the committee (at the AGM)

3. mechanisms for the members to influence decision making

4. and in turn the committee needs to communicate decisions back to them.

5. a way to hold the committee to account

6. and for the committee to hold staff (or the ‘doers’ to account.)

There are many ways to do these things and great variety in how they are done. Consider carefully what is best for your own circumstances.

Next FAQ: The committee’s role in governance
Previous FAQ: Who are the committee members?

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A Word About Words

This site is aimed at those who govern (control) small organisations - whether they are charities, companies, both or neither. Those who govern them may be called a variety of names. We have chosen to use mainly 'management committee' and occasionally 'committee member' or 'trustee'. more...
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