Committees are one of the ways in which important volunteer work gets done in a nonprofit. They are a way of involving people, sharing the workload and incorporating a variety of perspectives and expertise into the outcome.
But there are also pitfalls. Adding committee meetings to board meetings can lead to board member burnout, and they can be a frustrating waste of time if the board rehashes the work of a committee.
The Nonprofit Sector Leadership Program at Dalhousie University offers the following advice to Boards:
- If the issue is operational, rather than governance, consider creating a group that advises the Executive Director rather that a committee that reports to the board.
- If the task is not too large, consider assigning the task to an individual rather than a committee. It eliminates the logistical problems and delays of trying to work in a committee.
- If the need is to deliver a result, consider making it an “ad hoc” (temporary) committee rather than a standing committee. People might be more willing and energized to serve on a committee with a finite life.
- Give committees a clear role and timeframe for delivering recommendations back to the Board. A lack of clarity makes it difficult to decide who should serve on their committee. A vague charter and timetable also makes it more difficult to recruit and energize committee members.
- Most boards should have a Nominating Committee to recruit members to replace leaving or termed-out members. If the board has major responsibilities for fundraising or public advocacy, it should also have a Fundraising Committee and an Advocacy Committee.
- If you have an Executive Committee, the board should agree on how much power it should have to make decisions between board meetings and to direct staff. It is desirable for the Executive Committee to be responsible for planning board meetings and insuring effective governance.
- With any committee, be clear with the Executive Director and staff, what authority, if any, that a director has as a member of a committee. Are they there as an interested volunteer or are they there as a representative the board.
Author: Bob Cryer, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org