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Board Committee 101: How to Increase Their Impact in Your Organization

Andrea Amorosi December 26, 2023
Table of Contents
7 min read

Board committees are an important part of your nonprofit organization. They help advance initiatives when your general board is not available to meet or don’t have the resources to tackle a problem. They also help improve your board’s effectiveness by bringing their own specialized knowledge and perspective and making strategic recommendations to improve your organization as a whole. 

We’ll cover how to decide whether board committees are right for your organization, the best structure to use, best practices and tips for success, and more. 

  • What is a board committee?
  • What are the four most common types of board committees?
  • What are board committees and their functions?
  • Do all boards need a committee?
  • What is the typical board committee structure?
  • How to choose your committee members
  • How to create successful board committees

What is a board committee?

A board committee is a smaller group of people within your organization’s non profit board that has a specific area of expertise. They inform your larger board on best practices and help advise how to navigate areas of concern.

Board committees help manage the volume of work for your entire board. They’re either temporarily set up by the executive board (an ad-hoc board committee) or they’re permanent components that meet on a regular basis (a standing board committee). 

What are the four most common types of board committees?

There are many types of board committees, but generally they fall into one of the following four common groups:

Ad-hoc committee

Also referred to as a select committee. Ad-hoc committees are temporarily set up to find solutions to an issue and develop ideas. They are appointed by the board’s executive leadership.

Constitutional committee

Constitutional committees are focused on issues related to how the organization is governed. They help establish policies and oversee legislation. 

Advisory committee

Advisory committees consist of a group of people with a specific set of knowledge or perspective (such as belonging to a particular demographic). They offer guidance to an issue or opportunity for the board and present solutions to help advance the organization. 

Joint committee

Joint committees are made up of members from different groups that bring unique levels of expertise with mutual overlap. 

What are board committees and their functions?

While your entire nonprofit board makes overall decisions, your board committees are responsible for honing in on specific responsibilities and issues and understanding the finer details. Common board committees’ responsibilities include:

  • Overseeing specific projects, policies, and plans 
  • Making decisions about policies
  • Giving advice or recommendations on issues
  • Strategic planning for initiatives
  • Evaluating staff and work within the organization
  • Fundraising and auditing
  • Approving budgets and other supporting activities

Do all boards need a committee?

This all depends on the size of your board. If your board is small but well-organized and effective, then adding a board committee is probably unnecessary.

Understanding the right number of board committees for your organization also depends on your member to board committee ratio. It should make sense. Generally, your members should not be on more than one committee. If they are, you have too many. For example, if you have 20 members, then you shouldn’t have 5-6 committees.

What is the typical board committee structure?

Most boards have a combination of standing committees and ad-hoc committees. However, the most common and typical board committee structure is the Three-Committee Model.

The Three-Committee Model is popular because of its simplicity and ability to optimize board members’ time and focus. Its smaller size means your committees are more manageable while also being more effective. 

Using the Three-Committee Model, here is a board committee structure template your organization can leverage:

  • Governance committee - A governance committee helps oversee your board of director’s activities like their compliance with policies and their general functions and duties.
  • Internal affairs committee - Responsible for all internal and operational matters that are reviewed by the board regarding your nonprofit organization such as member issues and finances.
  • External affairs committee - This committee advises on any activities outside of the organization that enhance your mission or are related to public initiatives. They’re also responsible for disseminating information to the public and managing marketing, branding and external relationships.

For each of these committees, make sure to include these core roles: 

  • Chairperson - Facilitates, plans, and runs meetings. Resolves conflicts and ensures everyone has an equal say in matters being discussed. 
  • Co-chair - Acts as the chairperson when the chairperson is absent. 
  • Secretary - Communicates between committee and board members. Records minutes, maintains records, and other scheduling and administrative duties. 

How to choose your committee members

1. Define the purpose and goal of your board committee

Start with considering the purpose of your board committee and what your needs and goals are. Depending on the tasks your committee needs to complete, you will need different people with varying expertise. Ask yourself if there are any existing gaps that need to be filled.

2. Evaluate potential members

Review if members are a good fit by evaluating their:

  • Expertise. What are their unique skills and experience and how they can help solve the needs and goals of your board committee and add a helpful perspective?
  • Demographics. Make sure you have a diverse range of perspectives including individuals of different age, gender, ethnicity, etc. 
  • Continuous learning. You never want your board committees to be stagnant. Make sure your members have a willingness towards continuous growth and learning. 

3. Recruit committee members

At this stage, ask well-suited members to fill in a board committee member application form. If a candidate is an especially good fit, you may want to skip this step.

4. Onboard new committee members

Give them the information they need about their role and how they can get involved. You may also want to pair them with a fellow member that they can turn to for guidance. Be sure to introduce them at the next meeting and give them opportunities to speak and collaborate with existing members.

5. Evaluate board committee health on a regular basis

Take time at the end of each quarter or year to ask yourself questions like:

  • Is this board committee useful or necessary?
  • Are there any constraints and gaps?
  • What are the committee’s recent accomplishments?

You may want to adopt an approach where committees are dissolved and recreated on an annual basis so they never stagnate and always offer a fresh perspective.

How to create successful board committees

Here are some board committee best practices and tips for success. 

1. Make sure committee has a specific objective

The objectives of your board committees serve as a guide. Understand your committee’s goals and purpose, including what you want to accomplish for each quarter. Establish metrics for success to evaluate progress.

2. Only set up committees if they are necessary for a specific purpose

Establish a new committee or re-evaluate existing ones only if your board encounters a new problem or opportunity that needs to be addressed.

3. Give all ad-hoc committees timelines for work

To help your ad-hoc committee optimize its time efficiently and effectively, create timelines and deadlines for work. Finally, ensure ad-hoc committees have access to the resources they need to complete their work well.

4. Restrict members from serving on multiple committees

This makes a member’s role less effective and typically redundant because they are distracted or spread too thin. A great way to keep an eye on this is to evaluate your member to board committee ratio on a regular basis.

5. Record all committee work

This is typically the chairperson’s responsibility. You will use this information to evaluate committees at year end or at a cadence that makes sense with your board to see if you need to get rid of any committees or create new ones.

6. Be mindful of committee size

Make sure your committees aren’t too large or too small. If they’re too big, they might have too much of an influence on the organization. If they’re too small, they’re likely not capturing a wide enough perspective or demographic to properly serve your organization.

7. Create sub committees rather than entirely new committees

If you encounter an opportunity to create a new committee, consider if it makes better sense to create a sub committee under an existing one.

8. Evaluate committees on a regular basis

Check for accomplishments, engagement, meeting minutes and their impact on your overall organization.

9. Establish board committee bylaws

Bylaws help govern each board committee and help them stay organized on their:

  • Purpose
  • Goals
  • Timeline
  • Leadership
  • Criteria for disposal of committee

10. Tackle big issues in smaller components

Break up larger projects into smaller tasks with assigned timelines to make projects easier and to increase effectiveness. Organizing responsibilities this way can also help with making sure your committee isn’t going over budget or getting distracted.

11. Create board committee meeting agendas ahead of time

Before every meeting, create an agenda that outlines what will be discussed and resolved. Ensure meeting items are adding progress to quarterly goals or other overarching timelines

12. Clearly define each committee member role

Check that every board committee member understands their responsibilities and the unique specialty or perspective they bring to the table. Create a list that allows each member to feel like they are making an impact that speaks to their individual talents and expertise.

Make More of an Impact with Your Committees

Your board committees are a crucial part of increasing the efficacy of your board. By bringing in different perspectives, they increase board diversity and allow your nonprofit organization to handle challenges and opportunities in a more strategic and insightful way, while also reducing workload. 

Simplifying and honing in on the right board committee structure can help your organization maximize its impact and reach. Looking for more information on how to optimize your board? Here’s your complete guide to navigating board member recruitment. 

Get software that understands your organization and makes board committees a whole lot easier. See what MemberClicks can do to add simplicity to your committee management. Learn more here.

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