Getting the Most Out of Your Members

Chances are that the members of your organization have a wide range of experience, skills, and knowledge that you may not even know about. This post is designed to help you learn what you members bring to the table and how to effectively utilize their skills through goal-setting.

Getting to know your members

I’ve been doing graphic design since I was 14 years old. I sold my first paintings nationally when I was 18. I joined the Young Democrats at 17. Nobody in the Young Democrats knew my art background until I was 22. Why didn’t I tell them about it? Well, it never seemed relevant. Most of our discussions were about organizing, political campaigns, lobbying, and student issues. My design background seemed to not have anything to do with politics, so it never came up. It wasn’t until I began blogging with Photoshopped images and self-made graphics that it was brought to anyone’s attention.

Many of your members have unique skills that you could utilize in your organization if only you knew about them. You can’t expect your members to take the initiative in telling you everything they can do. They, like I did, probably assume that their talents are a part of their non-political life and have nothing to do with your organization. So it is up to you to ask them. The most effective way to do this is to just ask them personally, but here are some additional ideas I came up with:

  • Include a field that asks about their skills on your organizations membership forms.
  • Make the question an ice-breaker at a meeting.
  • Use online methods like Facebook or email groups.

Remember that having a conversation is the best way to really learn about your members. Your job as a group leader is to see how skills seemingly unrelated to politics can be of use to your organization. If a member is really good at baking, they are unlikely to put that on a membership form that asks about their skills since they don’t equate it with being a political skill. In your personal conversation with that member you can learn about that skill and come up with ways to apply it to your group. Selling baked goods at local and state party meetings as a fundraiser, making cookies for events, etc. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when thinking about your members’ skills in context of the organization.

Getting to know and learning about your members isn’t only valuable in discovering their skills, but in determining what they are capable of doing, how committed they are, and the best way to work with them.

Management and goal-setting

Your role as a leader in your organization is to sense what is possible for your members to do and to help them do it. The first step is getting to know your members and their capabilities as I described above. The second is using goal-setting and accountability to make your organization as effective as possible.

Most people, when they start writing plans for their organization, tend to write them as if their organization was a living entity whose personal responsibility is completing the goals laid out for it. Unfortunately organizations are not self-sentient beings but a conglomeration of members sharing the same goals. In a plan like this the goals are too vague and there is no personally accountability, which means most of those goals are probably not going to be met.

Specific goals are much better than vague goals. Research has shown that people working towards a specific goal outperform those working on a vague goal. An example of a vague goal is “increase youth voter registration.” A specific goal is “register 100 new young voters by June 1.”

Some people are wary of setting specific goals because they are afraid they might not get reached or that the number set may be too high. By avoiding setting specific goals you are setting yourself to under-perform your abilities. The performance level of a person working towards a difficult goal is much higher than an easy one, as long as that person is committed to completing the goal. This is where your knowledge of your members is useful: you know what they are capable of and how committed they are.

Your plans tend to include mostly long-term goals. In order to successfully complete a long-term goal you need to create and execute a series of related short-term goals that build up to its completion. This is often referred to as stacking, and the process a benchmark timeline.

If you want to make sure those specific goals are being reached, an individual must be personally responsible for its completion. If there is no accountability the buck gets passed and people assume that somebody else is going to do it. With your knowledge of the skills and abilities of your members you can assign ownership of specific goals effectively. When you have specific goals and individual members responsible for those goals based on their skill and ability, you likely have success.

Summing it up

  • Learn about your members: their skills, abilities, commitment, etc.
  • Sense what is possible for your members to do, and help them do it.
  • Always set specific goals instead of vague ones.
  • Performance increases with goal difficulty as long as there is commitment.
  • Long-term goals must be broken down into a series of related short-term goals.

Do you have other ideas? Do you have specific skills that we don’t know about that would be valuable to this post? Leave a comment.