12 Nonprofit Board Committees Best Practices: Helping Committees Do Good Work

Nonprofit Board Committees Best Practices

Many NPOs have difficulty relying on their board committees to function well. Too often, committees fail to accomplish their goals because they have little or no training to work together, cooperatively and effectively. Leaving unanswered questions such as: How should committees be structured? How should the committee meetings be managed? And how can committees work best with the board of directors? Here are 12 Nonprofit Board Committees Best Practices that will improve your board committees’ operation.

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12 Nonprofit Board Committees Best Practices

1. Directors should generally sit on only one board committee.

In the first of our 12 nonprofit board committees best practices, Directors should generally sit on only one board committee. This will allow them to concentrate their efforts on that one committee and the work of the board of directors. Also, by going outside the board for committee members, the NPO will identify association members who may be future candidates for the board of directors.

2. Time-Commitments

Next in our 12 nonprofit board committees best practices -when selecting committee members, never tell them that the time commitment they are making is small. This is not the mental attitude you want members to bring to the committee.

3. Diversify

Don’t select only tried and true members for your committees. It is not fair to them, and it is not fair to new members. Approach individuals who have recently joined the association will bring fresh ideas, eagerness and energy to the meetings. Also, remember that by participating, they will gain a stronger loyalty to the association.

4. Understand Your Potential Committee Members

When approaching potential committee members, find out what interests they have. If an individual is indifferent about professional development, for example, there is little to be gained by involving them in the professional development committee’s work.

But don’t abandon them. Give the person’s name to the committee’s chair that deals with an area of interest to the potential committee member.

5. Run committee meetings efficiently.

Here are some proven techniques. Start the meeting on time and don’t recap what has already been covered for late-comers—that does not encourage them to arrive on time. At the beginning of the meeting, announce when the meeting will end.

Prepare an agenda and distribute it in advance. Have someone take committee minutes and distribute them before the next meeting. Ensure the minutes indicate what action has to be taken, by whom and by when.

6. Delegate!

Committee chairs should delegate, delegate, delegate! If everyone on a committee does a little, then no one person has to do it all. Also, by delegating, all members of the committee will get to participate. nonprofit board marketing committee charter

7. Support

If you have a committee project that requires two people, team up an experienced committee member with a new committee member. You will get great synergy from this arrangement.

8. Distribute the work evenly among committee members.

Just because one person is hard-working and effective, you should not overburden them. This leads to burnout.

9. Sustain Morale

If committee members are not doing their assigned tasks, replace them. The morale of the committee will suffer if you do not.

10. The committee’s role is to do the detailed work.

The committee should submit recommendations to the board of directors so that the focus at board meetings will discuss recommendations, not details.

11. Committee reports

to the board should be concise, with the specific recommendations clearly identified.

12. Committee reports should be distributed

to board members before the board of directors’ meeting so that they can be read in advance.

Board Committees Deal with Governance, Staff Committees Deal with Administrative Matters

It’s truly amazing how much some not-for-profit organizations (NPOs) accomplish given their limited staff and financial resources. How is it that in some NPOs, so few directors and staff members can accomplish so much?

One of the prime reasons for this high level of performance is that successful NPOs consistently develop and maintain a committee system that permits the organization to leverage its limited resources to achieve an enormous number of the organization’s goals.

The most notable thing about these successful NPOs is that they appreciate two important characteristics of committees.

1. There are two very different types of committees operating within the NPO;

  • Board committees that deal with governance matters, and
  • Chief Staff Officer (CSO) committees that deal with administrative matters.

2. Only board committees report directly to the board of directors; CSO committees report to the CSO.

Nonprofit Board Committees

A board committee, sometimes referred to as a board statutory committee, may be:

  • required by the provincial or federal legislation governing the organization;
  • required by the organization’s bylaws; or
  • created by the board of directors itself.

Board committees typically continue on an ongoing basis from year-to-year. The Audit Committee and the Nominations Committee are two examples of such committees.

The board of directors will often be assigned responsibility for approving the selection of the chair of the board committee and its members, although sometimes this responsibility will be delegated to the chair of the board of directors. The committee will provide written reports on its activities for each board meeting.

Each year, the board of directors should review and approve the terms of reference of all board committees to ensure they are current and that, indeed, there is still a need for the committee. The terms of reference for each committee will define its:

  • purpose;
  • chair (preferably a board director);
  • membership (preferably including non-directors);
  • responsibilities ;
  • meeting schedule and time commitment;
  • staff contact; and
  • budget.

These terms of reference become an important tool for the board to monitor the performance of the committee.

Nonprofit Board task forces

The bylaws normally give the board of directors the authority to create task forces (sometimes called ad hoc committees) if and when required. A task force is a “committee” established by and reporting to the board of directors created to assist the board by developing policy alternatives and recommendations for the board’s consideration. When a task force is created, it is given a clearly defined task, terms of reference, and a termination date (sometimes called a “sunset clause”) for its activities.

For example, a board of directors might establish a task force to examine and develop recommendations on a board policy dealing with membership criteria, membership discipline, ethics, or codes of conduct. Task forces also provide written reports for each board of directors meeting.

CSO Committees

These are committees that are appointed by and report to the Chief Staff Officer that deal with administrative matters.

The CSO decides who will serve on these committees and who will serve as the chair. From time to time, a director may be asked to serve on a CSO committee – the director in this situation must remember that they serve at the request of, and report to, the CSO.

The terms of reference for CSO committees will define their:

  • purpose;
  • chair (usually a staff member);
  • membership (may include staff, directors or non-directors);
  • responsibilities;
  • meeting schedule and time commitment; and
  • budget.

If an indecisive board of directors is having difficulty determining whether a particular committee should be a board committee or a CSO committee, it is helpful to ask a simple question about committee’s work: if the NPO had greatly increased financial resources, would it include in its budget, funds to hire someone to fulfill the responsibilities of the proposed committee? If the answer to this question is yes, then the committee is most probably a CSO committee.

For example, should the Public Relations Committee be a board or a CSO committee? Should the Newsletter Committee be a board or CSO committee? Should the Conference Committee be a board or CSO committee? To be sure, each of these committees is doing important work, but they are doing administrative work that, presumably, the organization cannot afford to hire staff to do.

The solution, therefore, is to have unpaid staff (that is, volunteers) do the work. The CSO is responsible for successfully completing these administrative functions and is held accountable by the board for their accomplishment. Hence, the CSO should have responsibility for selecting the members of these committees, determining their terms of reference and monitoring their progress.

Successful Nonprofit Boards Build Successful Nonprofit Organizations

Successful boards know how to accomplish great things notwithstanding limited financial and human resources. Great things are possible if the board of directors successfully structures the NPO to recognize the importance and purpose of both board committees and CSO committees.

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