Establishing Effective Nonprofit Board Committees – What to Do.
By Eugene Fram
Updated & Revised.
Following are ways that many nonprofit boards have established effective board committees using my governance model as described in the third edition of Policy vs. Paper Clips.
• In the planning effort, focus board personnel and financial resources only on those topics that are germane to the organization at a particular time. For example, financial planning, long-range planning or short-range planning. However the board needs to be open to generative planning if new opportunities present themselves or are developed via board leadership.
• Reduce the number of board standing committees to no more than five, even less if possible
• Use subcommittees, also known as ad hoc committees or task forces, to review a range of board level topics, as needed, such as personnel policies, OSHA requirements and long-term space needs.
• Generally the CEO should attend all major committee meeting. He or she may or may not serve on subcommittees, depending on the information and guidance needed by the group.
• Staff input is critical. Professional staffs make major contributions to board policy decisions. It needs to be remembered that staff in most NFP organizations are more closely related to the board than they are in FP situations. They have been only a few organizational levels below the board.
• The CEO needs to foster an atmosphere in which staff members feel free to express opinions to board members and administrative staff. Such an atmosphere benefits the organization and isn’t just social activity.
• When confronted with a particular difficult issue, an excellent means of communications is the board/staff workshop. The professional interaction between board and staff should enhance the quality of decision-making. There are also secondary benefits, as a workshop enhances professional communications between board and staff and engages board members in meaningful hands-on projects. In addition, the board can assess the capabilities of promotable staff.
Too many boards have been content to analyze proposals endlessly (i.e., engage in analysis paralysis), Others to avoid conflict, have tended to rubber-stamp proposals made by vocal or overly aggressive board members or the CEO. Neither of these types of boards truly participates in the challenging act of establishing policy and direction for their nonprofit groups.
The times are currently changing. Boards are being held much more personally accountable for their action by the community and by legal statute. For example, if a volunteer board chair assumes the CEO title or becomes president/CEO, he or she may face increased exposure to liability for not meeting his or her duties of being very current on financials, compliance regulations, organizational limitations, etc.