April 29, 2013
Say you’ve just had a fantastic first committee meeting of the year. All of the members are energized and ready to take on the goals they’ve set for themselves. It’s exciting! But… then they don’t see each other for two months. Those excited volunteers you had are now MIA. No one is communicating with each other about the all-important “next steps.” You’ve lost momentum. Don’t let this happen to your committee!
There are many tools to help your committee members keep in touch with each other in between meetings and conference calls. The trick is to find the tool that works best for your group’s needs and clearly establish how communication is going to happen, how often, and what the responsibilities of each committee member will be. Here’s a handy list of tools that our clients have found useful:
- Email chain – Many of our committee just have a long list of email addresses that get copied and pasted from email chain to email chain. It’s best to keep a spreadsheet of the most updated list at your headquarters, as members may decide to resign or new members may join throughout the year. This tool works better for smaller committees where everyone knows each other and is comfortable making his or her email address accessible to the whole group.
- Listservs – Your organization may have a listserv set up through its own email system. Members of the group can email one address (such as PRcommittee@lists.yourgroup.org) and it will be distributed to the members. This works for larger groups and simplifies things for the sender. A negative of some listservs is that sometimes the online host of the listserv can charge a fee, or the system may require maintenance from your IT staff.
- Google groups/Yahoo! groups – These free tools are the more modern versions of the traditional listserv. Once you set up the groups through the simple Google or Yahoo! interfaces, committee members can email PRcommittee.firstname.lastname@example.org or PRcommittee.email@example.com to reach everyone. You can adjust the settings to fit your needs, such as making the group membership by your approval only, or making replies go to the entire group or just to the original sender.
- Google docs – If your committee is working on a project collectively, Google docs are invaluable. Rather than emailing different versions of files back and forth, Google hosts the document in a centralized place and all members can access the most updated version at any time. We use Excel Google documents often for things like event planning; for example, if a committee is working on collecting raffle items, they can keep a running tally as they each confirm items. If you’re concerned about “too many cooks,” you can adjust the settings so that some members can view the document but can’t edit it themselves.
- Facebook group – I’ve found that some of our younger members feel more comfortable setting up a private Facebook group to communicate. Facebook has been growing its functionality in this area. Within the group, you can now create Facebook events, upload documents, photos and videos, ask a poll question and see who has viewed your posts. Another feature that members seem to like is being able to “like” posts. You can’t do that in email chains! But keep in mind that many of your older committee members might not be on Facebook yet or some members might not want to mix their personal Facebook account with their professional involvement, so make sure it’s the right fit for your group.
- LinkedIn groups – LinkedIn groups are similar to Facebook groups, but LinkedIn is a professional network, so your members might be more inclined to connect with each other there. You might already have an open group for your entire organization, but you could also consider setting up closed LinkedIn groups for committee work. Please note that some LinkedIn users might have turned off their email notifications in their settings, so they might not receive group updates unless they log in. That can cause delays in communications if they don’t log in regularly, so definitely instruct them to turn on email notifications for the group.
- BaseCamp – If you have projects to complete, you might want to set up a BaseCamp account for your group. While there is a fee starting at $20 per month, this online project management software is useful for keeping your communications organized. I’ve found this tool helpful for projects with definite deadlines and deliverables, such as a website redesign. You can create to-do lists, elicit feedback, upload files, store drafts and schedule meetings. The best part is that all project-specific work is in the same place, so you don’t have to search through hundreds of emails in your Outlook to find that one comment from a committee member.
Nothing beats an in-person committee meeting, but these technologies are giving us ways to communicate with volunteers and colleagues in amazing ways. What other programs or tools do you use to stay in touch with your committees?