4 top tips for a community organisation

I was recently asked by a community organisation for my top tips to how they should be structured based on my personal views, Bold Vision, business / third sector / life experience. I decided to share them here…

1. If people don’t know why they are there they’ll stop showing up

It’s a bit awkward not having a role. My first boss would not allow anybody in a meeting unless they had a role since no role = no value = no self esteem.

  • SO –> deciding on the roles after an early settling down period (which I would argue you are coming to the end of now) is likely to make the group more effective AND more motivated.
  • TIP: make the role 12 months so people don’t feel like they are signing their lives away. They can always do another 12 months at the end if they want to.

2. Operational issues will always crowd out strategic ones

Whatever our good intentions, very few people can develop the battle plan at the same time as digging the trench. Committees that try to do both end up having frustrating meetings and never quite getting round to the difficult questions

  • SO–> it helps to have operational teams and strategic teams. Both types of teams report back to the full committee (concisely!) especially regarding action items / key decisions.
  • TIP: this requires some trust and some “letting go”. Usually in the early days everybody has done everything. That’s not sustainable

3. Ground rules shape the space

We identified our values in Bold Vision early on (openness, courage, mutuality and potentialising) and this gives a good yardstick for decision making and process management eg “are we being open enough?”, “is that the courageous decision?”. We also found we needed rules of engagement about respect for others’ efforts, looking out for each other, honesty and so on.

  • SO–> spend an hour in a brainstorm together to identify the values and ground rules of the group then stick to them (I can do that for you if it helps, it’s part of my day job)
  • TIP: it seems like an activity that can be postponed when there is a lot going on (ref 2 above!!) but it saves a lot of time and unnecessary grief so really worth investing an hour in

4. Less is more

In Bold Vision we want maximum engagement AND decision making capacity. So we have several layers.

  • 3 directors + company secretary.treasurer (for formal stuff. More would just make admin more complex)
  • 9 on management team (we try to not use the word committee coz it makes me feel bored already). We have had more and less but this seems to be a good number. The only formal roles are chair and company secretary
  • 5 or so action teams, each led by one of management team and involving a loose gang of 5-15 volunteers
  • 70-100 Bold Backers (who have given money or time/effort) who will shortly be invited to be members. This will give them voting rights at AGM, ability to nominate directors or mgmt team members and a hopefully an increased sense of ownership
  • 500 people on our mailing list
  • SO–> consider a structure that is manageable for your group, will be transparent to the outside world and includes all the relevant interest groups somewhere
  • TIP: go for a next-12-months structure first, it can always be amended as the organisation finds its feet

If this is not specific enough then shout, otherwise have fun with it 🙂

Lastly, in my view, don’t start with what the council/funder wants (they may have no track record in this field!) it matters what works to deliver YOUR objectives while giving those involved a chance to flourish too (and not get burned out)