19. Advisory committees and steering committees

I am on a management committee and have been told by the coordinator that it is an advisory role. Is this correct?

You must first define ‘management committee’ and then define ‘advisory’ and determine your organisation’s legal status. Let’s look at legal status first. If you are a registered company or charity then you status is clear and the group of people who together make up the top committee that ultimately makes the final decision is the governing body (whatever you chose to call it) and those people control and direct the organisation (this is more than just advising). If you are neither a company (incorporated) nor a charity then your status is ‘unincorporated association’ (unless your purpose is illegal in which case it’s called a ‘conspiracy’). If there is no written remit or constitution then generally those who make up the association collectively direct it. Again, this is usually considered more than simply advice. If there is no written remit or constitution then consider drawing one up – it will help avoid future confusion over the committee’s role. In some cases organisations do set up advisory committees, however, it should be clear in the remit who the advisory committee reports to – usually the ‘top’ committee (i.e. the committee that takes ultimate decisions and responsibility, whatever it’s called). If there is no such committee that can be identified and your advice is given directly to an individual then you should stop and consider the situation carefully. You may have drifted into ‘structurelessness’ and need some advice from a community or development worker from a local support organisation.

I have been invited onto the steering committee of a project set up jointly by three local agencies, but the project’s worker doesn’t seem to follow our advice.

First read the above item. Ideally this steering committee should have a written remit that will identify the committee’s role and who it is answerable to. Essentially, unless efforts have been made to set the project up with its own legal identity – such as separate charity registration – then it is most probably still the ultimate responsibility of one of the partner agencies. As they are legally responsible for it, then the steering committee is acting in an advisory capacity. Ideally these issues should be dealt with in the partnership agreement or the steering committee remit. For instance, it should state who has ultimate legal responsibility for the project, what the steering committee’s role is and under what circumstances the ‘responsible body’ (i.e. the one being held to account for the project) can reject the steering committee’s advice and how the steering committee are notified when this happens.

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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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