So many responsibilities, so little time. How does a nonprofit board get it all done? Divide and conquer with well-designed board committees.
Board Committees allow a board to work efficiently in smaller groups, tapping into its collective wisdom without burdening the full board. But not all committees are created equal. Different needs require different structures. This and other questions are examined periodically by BoardSource in their Leading with Intent study. The 2017 report illustrated some interesting trends in the composition of nonprofit boards.
Committees of Different Stripes
Here are the main types of committees common among nonprofit boards.
Standing Committees – These long-term committees address the ongoing needs of the organization. Each one should have a clear and essential function that is aligned with the board’s leadership role and responsibilities. Typically these committees include:
Task Forces – For short-term needs that have a specific timeframe, such as strategic planning, a task force is generally more suitable than a permanent standing committee. Once the task force completes its work, it is dissolved and its members are then free to take on other responsibilities.
Advisory Committees – In general, it’s not necessary or advisable to duplicate or mirror staff functions. But sometimes there’s a need for non-staff expertise in a particular area. In this case, an advisory committee can be very effective. This committee can include board members and even individuals outside the organization. It then reports to the staff dealing with that particular topic.
Non–Committees – There are some functions that don’t require a committee at all, such as compensation philosophy. These can be handled by creating a board policy or statement of beliefs. Perhaps a temporary task force can be convened to hammer out the details and is then dissolved once the policy is defined and adopted.
Whatever committee structure your organization adopts, the more clear you are about the purpose and functions of these committees, the more successful they’ll be. Putting all this in writing ensures everyone knows what the expectations are.
Documentation for each committee should include:
- A clear and appropriate purpose.
- List of responsibilities and expectations.
- Clearly defined scope and decision-making power as explicitly delegated by the full board.
What is Your Experience?
What committees has your board of directors established? How do you document their responsibilities? Do you have only standing committees or a mix of all types of committees listed above? What strategies are most effective in helping these committees succeed in their responsibilities? We welcome your thoughts in the comments below. We’d love to hear what you are learning.