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Vol. 42, No. 4

Vicki Clark: Committees and sections are a lot like kindergarten

by Sharon Nolan

Committees and sections are the lifeblood of our associations. The real workhorses of our bars. This is where all the connecting and sharing happens between our members. But how much attention are we really paying to these vital components of membership?

Vicki Clark of Building the Capacity of Organizations, senior governance consultant for BoardSource, and all-around committees and sections guru addressed that very idea at the 2018 NABE Midyear Meeting in Vancouver. Clark wants us to rethink and reinvent how our committees and sections are organized and operating. She thinks bar committees are akin to our grade school kindergarten or homeroom experience. They're where most members get their first experience in being an active bar member (just like kindergarten!) and serve as a home base for members to learn what’s happening at the bar and to understand the mechanics of rising through leadership ranks (just like homeroom!).

Below are 10 key ideas from Clark’s presentation to get the conversation started at your association on how to create a sense of community and support these vital components of membership.

  1. Take an inventory of your committees and sections and ask yourself, “Who is being transformed by this group? Is this group moving your association’s mission forward?”
  2. Five generations of lawyers are now involved in bar association work at one time. Think about how to engage these different generations, and don’t be afraid to pull new lawyers into leadership roles—they are ready and able to serve.
  3. Bar associations need to move members from “informed/mailbox members” to active participants. Brainstorm with committee chairs about how you can engage members and create leaders.
  4. Support your committee chairs. Meet in person with your leaders once or twice a year by hosting an informal get-together over breakfast or lunch to learn what is working, brainstorm new ideas, and just generally talk about what’s going on in the profession—great ideas can come out of sessions like these. A “debrief” at the end of the term can also be enlightening.
  5. Provide your chairs with a job description that says something about helping members get engaged in the association.
  6. Provide your meeting leaders with announcements to read at the start of their meeting (just like homeroom). You have a captive audience that is engaged in what the speaker has to say. Give them two or three bar announcements to read aloud (a great way to share information besides email).
  7. Ask chairs to welcome members at each meeting, be authentic, thank members for coming, and share the outcomes of any committee work, such as legislative recommendations or bar programs.
  8. Chairs should be encouraged to ask members to participate in the planning process and to communicate what they would like to learn.
  9. Invite new members to sign up for committees—they might not know they exist, or they may just want to be asked to participate!
  10. Members ask themselves, “What did I learn, or how did I grow through this experience?” Remind them of the value they received from committee and section participation with a short note once a year. Tell them what you are offering that they can’t get anywhere else. Promote the good works of committees and sections in your association publications and social media.

(For more information and tips, please consult the handout for this program.)

Sharon Nolan

Sharon Nolan is director of marketing at the Chicago Bar Association.