submitted by Brian Minsker, V.P. of Programs

When you think about committees, chances are you aren’t having many positive thoughts about them. After all, just about every famous quote about committees is negative (e.g., “A camel is a horse designed by committee.”). But a well-run committee is the grease that keeps a PTA’s wheels turning and moving forward, allowing those most interested in an event or activity to push it to completion while avoiding cluttering up regular PTA meetings with discussions that don’t interest the majority of members.

So what makes a committee a productive part of a PTA? The answer starts with the committee chair. When you accept the leadership of a committee, your approach will be crucial to the success of the committee and its purpose.

Make sure that the committee has a clearly-defined task and time frame. Use that goal as your finish line, and work backwards to create a timeline with important milestones that need to be accomplished. This may be done by the chair prior to the first meeting, or it can be the main order of business at the first committee meeting.

If the PTA has done this event or a similar one before, a procedure book covering that experience is incredibly useful in creating this schedule. If you’re planning a completely new event, gather resources online, network with other PTAs who have done similar events, or ask your PTA district or region director if they can connect you to other PTAs and resources.

Once you have your large milestones in place, break each one into smaller, distinct jobs that can be completed by a smaller group or an individual. Make sure that the jobs to be done are clear and meaningful and that the right number of people are assigned to do them. Designing a flyer is probably best tackled by a single person with feedback from others, but stuffing envelopes can be more fun if a small group is working together and chatting while doing it.

As the leader of the committee, remember that people volunteer their time in order to belong to something and to make a meaningful contribution. Make sure that everyone interested in helping is included and that the jobs assigned are productive rather than busywork. When there are tedious jobs to be done, look for ways to make them more enjoyable such as having a small group do them together over snacks.

Once your committee has finished its job, be sure to thank all of your volunteers and to thank them often. Thank them at the last committee meeting, thank them at the event if there’s an opportunity to speak to everyone at once, thank them at the PTA meeting and in the PTA newsletter, and perhaps even with a short, hand-written thank-you note. When volunteers feel valued and appreciated, they are much more likely to volunteer again.