We hear a lot about board committees with nonprofits. They can be positions of prestige, frustrating obligations, powerhouses of productivity, or time suckers. It all depends on how well they are planned and conducted. If you’ve been wondering whether your nonprofit is using committees efficiently, it may be time to examine your board committee approach.
Whether you are expanding your committees or looking to scale existing ones back, you can find these topics in this article:
Board committees are small groups of individuals who advise the board on a specific area of operations. Committees are groups of board members, staff members, and volunteers who come together to provide expert guidance for the board as a whole.
Most importantly, board committees are a way to leverage the knowledge of a larger group of people to help the board make the best decisions possible.
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Now that we know the general definition of a board committee, why should we bother forming them? When done right, they diffuse the amount of work required of each board member, while concentrating the amount of expertise available for a topic into a select group of people. Let’s dig more into the reasons for establishing various board committees.
Board committees allow necessary work to be distributed evenly throughout your board. This allows for the best allocation of talent and ensures that work gets done. When you break your goals and responsibilities down into more manageable pieces with a clear organizational structure, your board doesn’t have to get bogged down worrying about who is responsible for which task.
For most nonprofit boards, committees provide the following benefits:
Each committee your board creates needs to have its own mission and reason for being. It should also have a defined set of responsibilities.
If board members must serve on more than one committee, you may have too many committees. Most boards have 12-16 members. If you have more than 4 committees, your board members may feel that they must serve on multiple committees.
You can lose great people if the committee work isn’t really a good use of their time. That’s why it is crucial to only have the committees you actually need. Here is a list of typical nonprofit board committees that many organizations implement.
These members, which usually include the chairs from other committees, the board chair and others, take on the “big picture” tasks and steer the group towards success. Planning, creating other committees, creating an agenda for the group, and tackling other large-scale tasks are handled by this group.
These are permanent groups that meet regularly and only change with the arrival or departure of members from the board. These groups help monitor progress, make plans, and report to the main body on their specific subject areas. Standing committees often cover finance, marketing, communications, budgets, and more.
Your board recruitment team is also likely a standing committee, sometimes part. This group would be responsible for recruiting new members from the community, onboarding, and tracking terms for board members.
Some nonprofit board committees are only needed for part of the year or for specific events. If you do annual fundraisers, galas, volunteer gatherings or events and other one-time or yearly programs, a board committee may be assembled for each. Ad-hoc committees are a great way to keep your organization from being overloaded with too many standing committees that don’t have enough to do year-round.
At a nonprofit with development staff, the fundraising committee supports its work through donor appreciation activities, fundraising campaign support, corporate sponsorship or donation procurement, and so on.
For a nonprofit without a development staff, the fundraising committee might do all the previously mentioned activities, as well as more tactical activities like annual campaigns and fundraising events.
The finance committee supports your board’s fiduciary oversight and planning by taking on bigger questions than just budgeting and account management. This committee may focus on longer-term projects like investments, capital campaigns, lines of credit, and rainy day reserve funds.
While these were traditionally separate standing committees, most nonprofits now combine the duties of both into the governance committee. The periodic work of nominating new board members can be done along with reviewing bylaws, overseeing executive director employment, and leading board evaluations.
No nonprofit wants the media randomly picking a board member to ask about news relating to the organization. This is what the communications and PR committee is for! Members of this committee provide internal communication, help produce newsletters and official statements, manage social media, and act as the contact point for any media requests.
A system of checks and balances helps a nonprofit avoid ethical issues. The audit committee conducts an annual review of all the nonprofit’s finances and ensures the board is ready to answer any regulatory questions accurately. This board committee acts as a supplement to the Finance Committee and board treasurer.
Committee members may be board members, staff members, or volunteers, depending on how the committee (or subcommittee) has been formed. Members should know what they can and can’t do, and whether they can make actual decisions on matters that fall into their subject area.
Ideally, a board committee member should:
What committees are required in your bylaws? How many committees do you have? What are the functions of your nonprofit board committees? Are board members serving on more than one committee? Do some committees struggle with what work they should be doing? Be sure you can answer all these questions before starting a new board committee.
A committee should have a leader who can help guide the group, report to the board at large, and communicate needs and requests to the organization and staff. Committees should have easy access to key staff members that closely align with their responsibilities and subject area. This ensures that your nonprofit board committees can build relationships with staff and know who to reach out to if information or assistance is needed.
Naturally, the needs of each board committee will vary somewhat depending on your nonprofit size and mission. However, there are some guidelines that apply to all nonprofit board committees, regardless of size or purpose. Here are some more tips for success.
It’s up to board leadership to determine whether board committees become a powerful extension of the board of directors or a quagmire of bureaucracy and inefficiency. Luckily, turning board committees into the indispensable group of experts the board relies on for advice is within reach. With careful planning and execution, your nonprofit can leverage this powerful tool, too!
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