Organizing a working committee (as opposed to an advisory board or committee) to develop and implement a variety of capacity building strategies can build capacity much faster than limiting yourself to just one persistent publicity strategy. A working committee might be a management team or a group of volunteers and a staff member or two.

The average volunteer in the US donates eight hours of service a month. A working committee of ten people typically invests ten times as much effort in capacity building as a persistent publicity strategy. Committees also have the breadth of experience and interests needed to implement a variety of strategies. The more effort mobilized, and the more strategies implemented, the faster capacity builds. Building an infrastructure of an ever increasing number of working committee members is one of the most cost-effective ways for a nonprofit to build its capacity.

The first capacity building committee that a nonprofit should try to organize is a lead committee to develop and deploy the nonprofit’s strategic plan for building capacity. A diversity of people experienced in strategic planning, marketing, sales, public relations, E-commerce, getting grants, donor development, volunteer management, etc. might staff this lead committee. Our next letter will present some ideas for how to go about recruiting committee members.

The objective of the first meeting of the lead committee is to get everyone to share their values, and through discussion, align with one another on a statement of their mission and vision (see Letter #1). This important first step builds each committee member’s commitment to one another and their shared values, providing a motive to do the work needed to build capacity.

The second step is to define the committee’s capacity building goals and the strategic focus areas that committee members might work on (see Letter #2). Third, determine who has an interest in working on each strategy. If there is insufficient interest in a strategy, then the strategy is not viable for the committee at that point in time, and it should be deleted from the current plan. Everyone should be allowed to contribute in the way that they want to contribute, rather than being pressured to work on a particular strategy. This policy tends to maximize each team member’s motivation, satisfaction and contribution. It is a “best practice”.

In a working committee, everyone is expected to do some capacity building work between meetings. If some members only want to attend meetings, it creates inequalities and inequities, which is likely to reduce other committee members’ commitment to contributor efforts. If a committee member is not interested in making a working contribution, the committee should make it easy and mandatory for them to withdraw from the committee. This is a “best practice”.

Every viable strategic focus area needs a leader willing to be responsible for implementing the strategy. If no one volunteers to be the responsible leader, the strategy is not viable, and should be dropped from the plan. The leader of each strategic focus area should meet with the interested contributors to set a measurable goal for their strategy for the coming year. The lead committee should review all these year-one strategy deployment goals to insure that they are sufficient to achieve the year-one capacity building goal, or make adjustments so that everything is consistent.

Once a set of goals for year-one is agreed to, the people working on each strategic focus area need to develop an action plan to achieve their goal for the year. They might try to recruit additional volunteers to help implement the strategy. An action plan is a list of tasks, with the name of the person who wants to make each contribution, and when they expect to make it.

Every committee member should have at least one action item to contribute. If people are allowed to work on their own strategically relevant ideas, those tasks are more likely to be successfully implemented than if others try to assign them tasks. This is a “best practice”. If all the year-one action items for a strategy seem likely to meet the strategy’s year-one goal, then the strategy is viable. If not, adjustments are again needed, until everything is consistent.

Researchers have found that the primary difference between high and low performing groups is the willingness of its members to make performance commitments to one another, and to hold one another accountable for results. In every monthly meeting, high performing groups get a progress report from every member. They recognize those individuals that report good progress, and uses a constructive problem solving process to immediately address every under-performance. This is a “best practice”.

The defining attributes of low-performing working committees is that they spend virtually all their time telling stories, asking questions and sharing information and ideas. Members rarely commit to do anything, or hold anyone one accountable for doing it, or use constructive problem solving processes to address any performance problems. A low performing working committee’s dialog is not about performance, which is why they become low performing.