Brad calls it the "narrow point of the wedge."
Umair calls it "microchunking."
Whatever you call it, lately, I've been fascinated with the idea that the key to leveraging committees that oversee larger consituentsies is in trying to create more "small things" that everyone in the community can do. We might understand this in technology, but a lot of professional organizations, school clubs, academic
departments, student service offices like the career office, haven't gotten this yet. They struggle to delegate and create leaders because they don't actually have the small tasks that fuel community participation and self-organization.
Currently, I sit on two committees. I'm the co-Chair of the Fordham Young Alumni Comittee and I'm also the Chair of the NYSSA SEMI Committee which is a college mentoring program.
Both groups mirror each other. They have small groups of people loosely tasked with organizing and programming for a much larger set of people.
In each situation, we have the same issue. The work of the group tends to fall into two categories. Either we meet on it, or one person goes and does most of the work on their own. Neither model scales at all in the context of the larger organization.
There are two problems. The leader definitely doesn't scale. That's an obvious one.
Boards don't scale either. The leader can only push so much to the board, and even if the board members do great work, they're still only a small group of people getting a limited amount of things done, especially if they're volunteers doing this in their off hours. If you put 5 people in charge of 500, then all they'll ever be able to do is speaker and seminar them to death. The nature of your programming will reflect the nature of your organizational approach.
Both of my committees have the same problem. We want to get more people involved, but we can't reasonably expand the size of the committee. There's not enough to do in a committee meeting as it is. It only takes on person to invite a speaker.
Its obvious you want to push down more resposibility and delegate, but the problem is that you don't actually have any tasks to delegate to anyone. If "show up to an event" or "show up to a meeting" are the smallest tasks you can assign to someone, you'll never be able to create interesting community dynamics. Have you ever wanted to delegate but didn't actually have anything small enough to hand to someone?
That's where microchunking comes in. Make the tasks smaller and more distributed. Instead of running your group with 6 members who each contribute 2 hours a week, what can you give 24 people to do that takes them a 1/2 hour?
We've done this to some extent with the alumni group and the career planning office. Whereas it used to fall on the 7 or so staff members of career planning to despense all of the career education, we created a program that allows 50-100 alumni to partipate as mentors. That actually gives an answer to the alumni that come back to us and say, "I want to get involved... what can I do?" We didn't really have that before.
Similarly, we're doing baby steps like this with the SEMI program is well. Previously, all you could do was either mentor (which was limited to 25 people), which was usually reserved for more experienced professionals, or sit on the board. Yet, I have all these alumni coming back to me saying, "I want to help." Now, we're letting companies sponsor some breakfasts for the students, and we're going to have alumni run some small group discussions as well. Its not a lot, but its more to do and the important part is, these events are going to be self-organizing. The volunteers will put the events together. Little/no incremental effort on the part of the board.
Knowledge sharing is a big area that allows for microchunking in big groups that also requires little maintaince by the small group that runs things. There are people that don't want to/can't mentor or run small groups, but might be able to put 15 minutes into answering questions, or contributing these answers in a blog post. Technology has to be a factor here. Wikis are a little less mainstream at the moment, but they'll get there and are a great way to get the community to share knowledge. Sometimes, an active website that allows community contribution can bring a lot of people together in small chunks of interaction, making the group as a whole thrive.
I'd love to hear from people that are involved in professional organization management, alumni programs, etc to see how you get participation out of the long tail of your community.
BTW... just for kicks, here's the promotional video I did for SEMI on our blog, which we started this year and has been a big success.