For a Board of Directors to do its work effectively, it is necessary that members understand their individual responsibilities and that the board organizes itself to perform the necessary tasks effectively. Committees or working groups are the answer.
Through committees, work can be divided so that far more can be accomplished than if the entire board acted on all matters. Committees provide organizational structure, and at the same time allow enough flexibility so the board can adapt quickly to the changing demands of the environment.
There are four functions that board committees serve. Such committees:
- Divide up the work of the organization
- Expedite work by removing routine tasks from monthly board consideration
- Utilize the specific talents and knowledge of board members
- Permit broader participation by all board members
While a committee’s overall function is primarily advisory, it still has to make board recommendations, and in some cases, decisions.
Effective Committee Operations
For a committee to operate effectively, it needs:
- A specific commission so that it is aware of its responsibility, timeline, and the limits of its authority
- A capable staff which can offer supplementary assistance when needed
- An effective Chair/Leader who:
- Understands the decision-making process
- Knows how to lead a group through that process
- Enables the committee to arrive at appropriate decisions
- Responsible committee members who:
- Spend the time and effort necessary to be knowledgeable on the issues
- Understand how to contribute to a group’s search for conclusions
- Know how to help a group evaluate the adequacy of available data
- Search for and evaluate alternative courses of action
- Make reasonable and thoughtful decisions or know when a matter requires additional input before a decision can be made
Most boards organize themselves into:
- Executive or steering committees
- Several standing committees
- Ad hoc committees/Task Forces/Working Groups
The Executive Committee is usually composed of the board officers, the chairs of the standing committees and a number of members as specified in the bylaws. Members are either elected by the entire board or are appointed by the President or Chair of the board. The functions of the Executive Committee are usually described in the bylaws.
The chief function of the Executive Committee is to plan the work of the board and to exact responsibility from members by providing agenda and other guidelines for board actions. Another chief role of the Executive Committee is to provide guidance for the organization between board meetings. When a board is very large, the Executive Committee often assumes broader functions and makes more of the policy decisions than when a board is of a size which permits it to operate and make decisions effectively.
Standing Committees are established on a permanent basis. These committees analyze issues within their areas of jurisdiction and make recommendations to the board. A standing committee also monitors and evaluates the performance of the whole organization in relation to its responsibility. The usual standing committees in nonprofit organizations are listed in the following section.
The Finance Committee is led by the board treasurer to oversee the creation of the budget, monitor and report on the financial status and activities of the agency, ensure the financial policies and practices are followed, and oversee investments. The finance committee usually includes the CFO and the number of members depends on the size and financial complexity of the organization.
Board Development and Governance
The Board Development or Governance Committee is often a standing committee that oversees the identification, recruitment, orientation, training, and retention of board members. This committee looks for opportunities to strengthen and evolve the board’s effectiveness, capacity, composition, and ability to lead the organization into the future.
Fundraising and Financial Resource Development
A Fundraising and Financial Resource Development Committee works closely with staff to create and implement the financial resource plan that will guide the staff and board’s activities in seeking out and securing funding from diverse sources. Special event committees are often a subcommittee of the Fundraising and Financial Resource Development Committee, and they often include non-board members. This committee may also take the lead in working with the other board members to explore the best ways they can contribute to the fundraising effort.
A Marketing/Communication Committee works closely with staff and other board committees to develop and implement a marketing/communications plan that articulates the primary audiences for the organization, how best to reach them, and what they most care about. The committee monitors the presentation of the organization’s brand, and ensures that the products, services, and programs of the organization remain relevant to the audience.
Ad Hoc Committees/Working Groups/Task Forces
The board may also organize special, or ad hoc, groups for specific purposes and for limited duration. These working groups are made up of board members (and may also include non-board members) who volunteer or who are appointed by the President or Chair of the board. These bodies will usually carry out their assigned functions, make recommendations to the entire board, and disband. Here are two examples:
Outreach/Membership Task Force creates and implements recruitment and retention programs to increase and maintain membership or broad community engagement. This committee may be a standing or ad hoc group/task force, depending on the needs of the organization. A Membership Task Force might work for 4-months on an annual membership drive, celebrate success, and come back the next year to do it again. This is typically a good way to involve non-board volunteers in a meaningful project with a beginning, middle, and end.
A Strategic Planning Task Force would be convened when an organization wants to engage in a strategic planning process. This task force would be responsible for keeping the planning process on task and updating the board. After the adoption of a plan, it’s possible that a different group of people will oversee the implementation of the plan, so the strategic planning task force would end and a new Implementation Task Force would be convened for this next phase.
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