Power trips, cliques, lack of participation, stuck in a rut – these issues plague many volunteer groups from the school PTA to the neighborhood homeowners association. There are ways to increase participation and enthusiasm and pull your group out of a rut!
1. Start anew each year. Have you ever joined a committee or club only to find that the “old-timers” run the show and the schedule of events and activities is set in stone because “that’s how we did it last year”? Keep the organization fresh by not allowing the same individuals to run the group year after year. Implement rules regarding the number of years someone can hold an office. While some continuity is good, too often the same clique runs the show and likes to stick with the plans they have always had. The result is tired events that attract fewer and fewer participants. Take the school PTA – if you have a certain event year after year, put a new chairperson in charge each time so that new ideas and ways of thinking keep the event fresh. Our school festival is the same every single year – same bouncy things, same prizes, same games in the same locations – frankly, it’s boring for the volunteers, for the parents, and, most importantly, for the kids. Maintain the tradition but shake it up with new attractions, new music, new games – give people a reason to come out.
2. Give everyone a role. How often do interested people attend a meeting only to feel like there isn’t much point in attending because every role is spoken for? People join committees, clubs, and volunteer organizations to make a difference. If you don’t allow your newest members to feel a part of the decision-making and the action, you’ll lose them – guaranteed. You can have an enrollment of hundreds and find that your attendance at meetings doesn’t even make quorum. It is the job of the leadership to give everyone a part to play – form subcommittees, delegate responsibilities, divide the team up into smaller brainstorming groups – keep your members in the loop.
3. Provide a reason to attend meetings. Make your goals for each meeting public. Have a question that needs addressing at each meeting – if people know there is actually something worthwhile being discussed, not just reports and such, you’ll find more people interested in attending. Make it fun – make each meeting a theme meeting or have local businesses donate door prizes and refreshments. Most neighborhood HOA’s are sorely lacking in participation – make each meeting an event not to be missed!
4. Make it personal. If your attendance is lagging, have your main participants make some personal calls inviting long-lost members to attend the next meeting. Again, have a topic or question that needs to be addresses and ask for their personal input. People like to feel like someone is interested in their opinions and ideas. Don’t give up on meetings just because attendance is low. Instead, work on improving attendance, even if only by a few members at a time. Some large groups give up on general meetings because no one attends. My view is that no one attends because they don’t feel part of the group – a small clique runs the show and there is really no way to introduce new ideas. Even if the invitation is there, no one feels comfortable attending a board meeting of you aren’t actually on the board? Open meetings are essential.
5. Review your goals and mission each year. Sometimes groups change and needs change, resulting in a disconnect. Maybe in the beginning your group was primarily interested in raising funds, but now that sufficient funds have been raised, to build a new playground for example, you need to reevaluate your group’s mission and establish new goals. Many times, a group loses focus and participants begin to lose interest once the primary goals have been accomplished. Keep pushing your group’s vision forward to new and higher aspirations!
6. Keep it positive. How many people avoid the HOA meeting each year just to not to have to listen to Mr. Neighbor complain about the same things he complains about each year and at every community event? Start and end your meetings on a positive note – reiterate what will be done to improve certain situations or resolve problems. Come up with an action plan for concerns that are raised. Make people feel like this group is really out to get the job done and you’ll find that your members feel energized and ready to tackle goals head on. Allow the naysayers to dominate the meeting and you’ll suck the life out of the organization.