It is important to formalise and democratise the operations of your group so that:
- The group’s affairs are open and its actions are accountable;
- The work-load is shared by a number of people;
- No one person becomes indispensable;
- No one person or clique controls or dominates the group.
The Executive Committee
The first step in formalising and democratising the operations of your group is to elect the officers who together form an executive committee (‘the committee’), which has the following functions:
- To understand and meet the expectations of the groups members;
- To manage the group’s affairs and activities;
- To ensure the group pursues the aims set out in its constitution;
- To ensure the group meets the requirements of Humanists UK Partnership or Affiliate agreements.
Size and operation
Set a minimum size of three and a maximum of, for example, seven; so that the committee can grow as the group does. Try not to have committees with more than seven-nine members, as they can become unwieldy and more easily dominated by a single person or sub-set.
To start with each committee should have a Chairperson (or President), a Secretary and a Treasurer. Additional officers may be co-opted onto the committee but should either not have voting rights or be a minority of the committee’s members (e.g. one of seven officers).
To start with there might not be much competition for joining the committee, so the main things to look for are a) competence and the ability to work in a team and b) willingness to do it.
Elect each officer individually at each (or every other) Annual General Meeting.
Try and meet regularly (every month or two), so that decisions are made clearly, formerly, and collectively; and so that the activities, affairs and projects of the group can be properly monitored.
Set a quorum for the committee (e.g. five of seven members).
No officer may receive payment for their services on the committee.
One of the group’s officers should be identified as the main contact person for communications with Humanists UK. In addition, according to the Partnership agreement, the group is expected to identify a ‘Focal Point, if required, for 1:1 dialogue and information sharing’. It would be helpful, therefore, if the main contact person were also the ‘Focal Point’.
There are not many hard and fast rules for who does what on a committee or what their titles are. The main thing is to ensure that it is clear who is responsible for every activity, that they have the capability to do it, and feel comfortable in carrying it out. The distribution of roles and responsibilities given below are based on common examples and for illustrative purposes only. Which responsibilities and roles a group actually identifies, and how they are distributed amongst the officers, will depend on local circumstances and expertise.
Every group should at least have a Chair, a Secretary, and a Treasurer – particularly if they want to open a bank account.
The Chair acts as ‘chief executive officer’. They should have an overview of all of the group’s business and should provide it with direction – guiding its policies and activities to fulfil the aims of the group and the wishes of its members. The Chair runs the committee and general meetings, and presides over other activities and events. The Chair is the main contact in the Group for interactions with Humanists UK; and is the chief spokesperson of the group in local affairs.
The other roles that the Chair might have include Activities Officer and Press and Publicity Officer. (See ‘Other Officers’ below.)
The Secretary acts as ‘chief administrative officer’, responsible for the administration of the group. They oversee the group’s calendar. The Secretary organises and services all committee and general meetings (booking venues, compiling the agendas, taking and writing-up minutes, inviting attendees, etc.). They work closely with the Multimedia Officer and Press Officer in maintaining a consistent and professional image for the group. The Secretary is the one who keeps a record of the Group’s activities and affairs.
The other roles that the Secretary might have include Multimedia Officer and Membership Officer. (See ‘Other Officers’ below.)
The Treasurer acts as ‘chief financial officer’, and is responsible for ensuring that the Group meets its financial responsibilities (including the production of an annual financial report and accounts for the AGM). The Treasurer is responsible for setting and collecting membership subscriptions (where applicable); for keeping the Group’s finances in order; for setting up and managing the Group’s bank account(s); and for advising the Group on the prudent and proper use of funds.
These roles are not compulsory, and the group may feel it only needs one or two of these (or none at all).
Responsible for planning and organising the group’s programme of events and activities. (E.g. coming up with ideas for different activities; booking venues; inviting speakers; etc.)
Responsible for planning and organising the group’s campaigning activities. The Campaigns’ Officer keeps abreast of the campaigns going on (for example, from Humanists UK, Humanist Students, and Skeptics groups) and inform the committee about them. They suggests whether it is appropriate and possible for the group to get involved, and, if so, how. The Campaigns’ Officer works closely with the Chair, the Press and Publicity Officer (to ensure good coverage), and the Membership Officer (to ensure member and supporter participation).
The Multimedia Officer is responsible for the Group’s web and social-media presence (such as its website; Facebook page; Twitter account; MeetUp site; etc.) and for the ‘technical administration’ of the Group, including the dedicated e-mail account(s). They will develop, update, and edit the website and Facebook page, and work closely with the Press Officer and Secretary in maintaining a consistent and professional image for the group.
The Membership Officer communicates with members, supporters and potential members. They keep an up-to-date membership database and mailing list; and keep a log of the numbers of participants at activities. They are responsible for increasing membership and participation; and should ensure that new faces are welcomed and integrated into the group. Smaller groups might not need a separate post here, but could combine it with the Secretary, with Press and Publicity Officer, or with Multimedia Officer.
One aspect of the role that some groups have is that of ‘membership care’: welcoming newcomers, or looking out for members who might suddenly stop coming.
Press and Publicity Officer
The Press Officer (or Press and Publicity Officer) is responsible for developing the group’s communication strategy: i.e. how it appears to the outside world. They are responsible for communicating with the press and promoting the group and its activities. They design posters, flyers, and other promotional material. They produce news items (and collate them from officers, members, Humanists UK, etc.) to go in a regular email newsletter and on the website and Facebook page. The Press Officer might occasionally act as spokesperson for the group. They work closely with the Multimedia Officer and Secretary in maintaining a consistent and professional image for the group.
Deputises and assists the Chair. Might also have another role, such as Secretary, Treasurer, or Activities Officer.