Running a committee, part one: responsibilities and roles

The majority of our member groups are run by a committee - a group of enthusiastic people who care about their group, want to see it thrive and are willing to take responsibility for making that happen. As well as enthusiasm, a committee position requires good organisational skills, a willingness to give up some spare time and the ability to co-operate with others. And like most things in life, being on a committee will very often give you a sense of achievement and fulfilment – but it can also be tedious and frustrating, especially when things are not going right.

This is part one of our resource and will set out the responsibilities and roles in a committee. Part two looks at committee meetings, communication and getting the work done part three looks at recruitment and problem solving. 

Even if you don’t have something formally called ‘a committee’ it is likely that you have a group of people who share the above characteristics and work together to run your group. As such the overarching themes in this resource will still be relevant.

Similarly whilst the resource refers to constitutions and charities, if your group is not a charity or does not have a constitution the main themes are still applicable.

As a side note: if you do have some form of committee/management team in place but don’t have a constitution, governing document or set of rules we highly recommend you think about adopting some. They do not have to be hugely elaborate but are important to clarify how you work, will help make you sustainable and will be invaluable if a problem or dispute occurs. You can read our model constitution to find out more and as a guide to the sort of things to think about.

What are the responsibilities of a committee?

The committee acts as a sort of ‘governing body’ for your group. They have managerial responsibility to ensure that the group operates within the law, according to its governing document, and in a fair and transparent manner. They take responsibility for the financial dealings of the organisation and are accountable for allocating funds and monitoring expenditure. They ensure that the organisation works towards its stated aims, and exist to take a wider perspective in order to steer the group in the right direction.

There are many different approaches to all of these elements, but the common theme is strategy and forward planning. Together, the committee will develop an outline for the next two to three years which includes dates of concerts, advertising plans, recruitment/audience publicity targets and any possible projects. This is known as a strategic plan.

As part of the strategic plan, the committee will also decide which policies the group should have in place and how often to review them, as well as ensuring that these policies are adhered to.

Charities:  for the vast majority of our member groups set up as charities the committee members are also the charity’s trustees. It is not just the officers (e.g. chair, treasurer etc.) but all committee members. This means they are legally responsible for all of the charity’s activities and (depending on the type of charity structure) may also be liable if things go wrong. If you are not sure whether your committee members are also your trustees, you should be able to find out from your constitution, if you are still unsure you can contact us.  

Committee roles

To be effective a committee needs clear roles, duties/responsibilities and leadership. Every group should have someone appointed into the following roles:

  • Chair – the figurehead for the group, represents the group on an official basis, the person who unites the committee and who has an overview of all activity within the committee. Find out more about the role of the chair.
  • Treasurer – looks after everything financial to do with the group
  • Secretary – deals with all correspondence for the group and minutes all meetings

Additionally, groups may find it useful to create some or all of the following roles for their committee:

  • Vice chair – supports the chair in their role as a representative of the group and stands in when the chair is unavailable
  • Librarian – sources and obtains sheet music for the group, and manages the dissemination and collection of music to and from members
  • Publicity officer – looks after all promotional activities such as posters, advertising, social media
  • Concerts manager – liaises with concert venues and oversees arrangements on concert day to ensure that everything goes smoothly
  • Membership secretary – separate to the secretary, the membership secretary keeps a record of current membership details and may assist in the collection of membership subscriptions
  • Fundraiser – separate to the Treasurer, they seek out funding opportunities and complete and submit funding applications
  • Making Music Group Representative (MM Group Rep) – every member group has an MM Group Rep as their main point of contact with us. The ideal person is someone from the group management/committee who is a good communicator. You can find out more about the role of MM Group Rep here.

It is not necessary to fill all of these roles – you will need to decide which of these roles are useful to your group, and which could usefully be absorbed into other roles (for example, the membership secretary role could be undertaken by the secretary).

Conversely, some roles may be more effective when shared between two or more people – for example, the publicity role could easily be shared, with each person taking on a different aspect of the role. Alternatively, you could consider setting up a sub-committee who deal specifically with publicity, meet separately to discuss their issues and then report back to the main committee. In these cases, it is good practice to name one of those people to oversee the team as a whole, to ensure that there is consistency across all the individual jobs being undertaken.

Finally, many committees also have ‘ordinary’ members or sometimes section representatives – people who have no specifically assigned task, but who are able to act as a voice for the membership at large, and who are willing to help where extra hands are needed, or with small tasks that may not be assigned elsewhere.

Your group’s constitution will tell you which positions you must have filled, which are optional, and how many people you must have on your committee to make it quorate. The majority of constitutions will give you some room for manoeuvre in terms of numbers and roles – but do check it to make sure, don’t just assume that you can create any role that you want.

Top Tip: whichever roles you decide to have it is a good idea to create a role description for each position.

This should make clear exactly what is expected from each committee member and what their responsibilities are. Perhaps most importantly all role descriptions should be shared with all committee members so they understand everyone’s role. It may seem like a small return for extra admin but it can really help your committee run smoothly and is very useful if disputes arise. Making Music has some sample role descriptions which you can use as a starting point.

Several groups choose to have time limited appointments – where a group member can only remain in a committee post for a certain amount of time. This helps to ensure that fresh ideas are constantly being brought into the committee, and allows people to ‘take a break’ so that they don’t feel like they are doing all of the work all of the time!

A further advantage is that it can remove barriers to entry; it is not uncommon for group members to feel they cannot stand for election against someone who has been in the post for a long time. This can be sensitive issue and having limited terms means you can remove the politics from the situation. If you have decided to time limit your appointments, do ensure that there is lots of support in place for an effective handover from one person to the next.

Election of Committee members

If you are a charity then it is very likely that committee members are elected from and by the wider membership. Even if you are not a charity it is recommended that a formal election or appointment process is in place. Your governing document will detail the exact process for how your elections should work. There are usually two possible exceptions to committee members not being elected:

  • Ex-officio committee members: this is when someone is a committee member by virtue of a position or post they hold. For example a university choir might have the chancellor as an ex-officio member – whoever is the chancellor is a committee member. Often ex-officio committee members don’t have voting rights – check your constitution.
  • Co-opted committee members: this is when the existing trustees can appoint someone to the role of trustees without an election (and possibly without being a member of the charity). This is often to allow someone with particular experience or expertise to join a committee. There are normally rules around when and why this can happen – check your constitution.

The process of electing members differs between groups. Members can stand for election to a specific role such as chair or secretary, others may elect a certain number of people to the committee and the specific roles are decided by the committee themselves. A combination is also an option – key officer roles (e.g. chair) are elected directly whilst other roles (e.g concert manager) are decided by the committee. Your constitution will probably have details on what can and should be done.

Your constitution will also specify the size of your committee – with either a minimum and/or a maximum number of members required. We recommend that you set your minimum to 3 members and that these are specific officer roles (Chair, Secretary and Treasurer). It is better not to specify a maximum committee size in your constitution. If you want to set a limit, you can do so in a separate document or as part of your rules and regulations. This allows you to change it more frequently and easily, as altering a constitution requires a more formal process.

Part 2: communication and ways of working

Part 3: recruitment and problem solving

We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.