Establishing Effective Nonprofit Board Committees – What to Do


Based on my experiences, following are ways that effective nonprofit boards have established  board committees.  

  • In the planning effort, focus board personnel and financial resources on those topics that are germane to the organization at a particular time. For example, staff requirements, assessing impacts  or succession planning. However the board also 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 possibleBefore bringing major issues to the full board, use subcommittees, also known as task forces, to review the issues  These include a  review a range of board level topics such as personnel policies, OSHA requirements and long-term space requirements .
  • The CEO may want to attend all major board committee meetings. He or she may or may not serve on subcommittees, depending on the level of management 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. Nonprofit staff groups frequently are only a few organizational levels below the board.
    • The CEO needs to foster an atmosphere in which staff members feel free to express professional opinions to board members and administrative staff when involved in appropriate forums such as strategic planning. This 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 the Executive Committee, by overly aggressive board members or by the CEO.  Neither of these types of boards fully participates in the challenging act of establishing policy and direction for their nonprofit groups.

The nonprofit environment is changing rapidly. Board members are being held much more personally accountable for their action by the community (such as a call for impact data) and by legal statute. Under the legal statute of due care, if a volunteer board chair assumes the CEO title or becomes president/CEO, she/he may face increased exposure to liability for not meeting his or her duties of being very current on financials, compliance regulations, organizational limitations, etc.

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