10 Best Practices To Keep Your Nonprofit Board Committees Productive
There are seemingly endless nonprofit board responsibilities, and if there is not an effective plan established to manage these tasks and projects, your organization’s board could easily get lost.
Each board member has their own skills and talents, so many successful boards establish committees to oversee specific duties, which not only allow them to choose the most qualified director for a given project but also help divvy up tasks in an equitable fashion.
With the burden of responsibilities spread out, no one member feels pressured to take on more than they can handle and the board can ensure that all aspects of the nonprofit are given suitable attention.
So, what are the best practices for making all of this work with minimal effort and maximum impact? Let’s talk about it:
- What Are Board Committees and How Do They Work?
- #1: Find the Ideal Committee Size
- #2: Tackle Big Topics in Digestible Parts
- #3: Determine If a Committee Is Necessary
- #4: Set Meeting Agendas in Advance
- #5: Create "Job Descriptions" for Each Committee
- #6: Be Selective in Your Choice of Members to Sit on the Committee
- #7: Restrict the Number of Committees in Which a Board Member Can Join
- #8: Set Member Term Limits
- #9: Onboard New Members Properly
- #10: Regularly Review Your Committee’s Performance
What Are Board Committees and How Do They Work?
Board committees are usually made up of a selection of board members, staff, and volunteers. The purpose is to assign the most qualified team to a specific aspect of the nonprofit’s operations, so they can work toward specific goals while providing expert advisory councils for the board on these subjects.
Having a number of advisors makes it easier for the board to oversee the management of various topics.
Each executive committee, ideally comprised of folks who volunteer for the service, should have its own mission and operating parameters in which to perform duties and present options on a monthly schedule.
If this sounds logical, you may be wondering where to start. Let’s dig in.
#1: Find the Ideal Committee Size
Choosing the right structure is an important committee consideration. Having oversized and undersized groups each have their own set of problems, so you will want to find the "Goldilocks" zone that is just right.
A large committee comes with a unique set of issues. For example, most individuals will have a life outside of your organization. When you have a large number of "day jobs" and family commitments to work around, scheduling can be difficult. Additionally, with such a wide variety of personalities and opinions, the decision-making process can be a trial.
On the other hand, a small committee may not have the bandwidth to achieve the full scope of tasks. Additionally, the fewer voices on hand the fewer perspectives, banter and challenge that often drive innovative solutions. There may also be struggles when trying to staff fundraising or similar responsibilities because of limited manpower.
Pro Tip: Finding the right balance is a question of trial and error, as well as correctly defining the scope of each committee topic. Allow yourself to make mistakes, you will find the right balance with time and experience.
#2: Tackle Big Topics in Digestible Parts
When faced with multi-faceted topics, it is best to divide and conquer. For improved effectiveness, your committee should partition the task into equal parts and focus on one at a time. For example, let’s assume your homeowner's association sets up ad hoc committees to address problems as they arise. Upon learning that the current location of the elementary school bus stop poses a safety risk to the kids that live in the community, a committee was formed to address the situation.
Matt is all for breaking big projects down into digestible parts!
After some initial investigation, members learned that the issue was larger than just calling the school and asking for the stop to be moved. The committee needed to:
Contact the bus company and local school to determine who the decision-makers were,
Discuss the evidence required to lobby for a change,
Hire a third-party resource to review the situation during pick-up and drop off,
Give parents notification of the plan so they were not alarmed when the independent party took pictures of students entering and exiting the bus,
Obtain a minimum number of signatures to support the change,
Compile all evidence and create a moving presentation,
Work through the logistics of having the motion added to the school board meeting agenda, and
Present to the school board requesting a change.
In the example above, starting by identifying the decision-makers and listing out the individual acts needed to enact change is key. Individual tasks can be delegated to various committee members to ensure the burden is shared. This strategy will not only reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed, which can lead to anxiety and burnout but also provide a chunk that is easier to timeline for progress assessment and quality assurance.
Remember our mantra, tangible goals equal tangible actions. Targeting smaller duties with specific goals will speed up the process and give your committee concrete tasks to improve performance and help budget their time.
#3: Determine If a Committee Is Necessary
As a fundamental purpose for committees is to disseminate the workload evenly, having too many task forces can derail this idea by hampering your organization’s progress with too much bureaucracy and over-processing. Over-processing is less agile, therefore making the committee less able to adapt when needed.
Evaluate each aspect of your organization carefully and determine whether nominating a committee is necessary. Some changes can likely be delegated to a single or perhaps a pair of staff members.
Others may be similar enough to committee topics that they can be merged within that group’s jurisdiction, especially if it balances out the workload with other committees.
Pro Tip: For projects with tight deadlines, instead of creating a new committee, convert an existing one into a task force (also called an "ad hoc committee"), providing them with a timeline. This will prevent an endless cycle of creating committees for one-off projects that will have no use afterward.
#4: Set Meeting Agendas in Advance
As we like to say in our content team, the key is in the planning. For committee meetings, have a plan with an outline of priorities and other key topics of discussion. You can even find samples of agendas for board meetings online to save time.
Having an itinerary creates a working atmosphere where everyone comes in with the mindset to be productive. In addition, agendas help keep members on track and ensure that all important topics are covered during the meeting.
Making this available in advance gives committee members a chance to formulate ideas and suggestions beforehand that can be presented and discussed.
Everyone has a chance to be prepared so that they can each make a more significant impact on the meeting rather than trying to remember their updates, which can cause important items to be left undiscussed.
A set agenda can also facilitate improved minutes of meeting publications, as topics of discussion are outlined in advance.
#5: Create "Job Descriptions" for Each Committee
It is important to establish nonprofit roles and responsibilities for each member of the committee, making every individual a specialist in some aspect of their division.
Just as creating committees balances the workload, having designated roles performs the same function within the committee itself and encourages participation.
Furthermore, it reduces opportunities for nonprofit board member conflict of interest, which can be a major roadblock in accomplishing the committee's mission.
Sam is mocking up a "job description" for his new committee!
Making sure each individual role is detailed and explicit sets expectations and allows each member to feel confident in their own part of the project.
#6: Be Selective in Your Choice of Members to Sit on the Committee
You want your teams to be the best they can be and to work together like a well-oiled machine. Accomplishing this means careful scrutiny of who you include within each committee.
Here are some considerations when assigning your teams:
Does this committee make the best use of this member’s strengths and skills?
Is this person a team player and are they motivated to work in this specific atmosphere?
Are they able to prioritize tasks and meet deadlines?
Do they have availability that permits them to work on projects, fundraising, and attend meetings?
The stew is only as good as the ingredients used to make it!
#7: Restrict the Number of Committees in Which a Board Member Can Join
Ideally, you want each chair on a single committee because this reduced scope allows them the time to provide in-depth focus on this responsibility for optimum results.
They are critical to your nonprofit’s success and are already generous with their time by serving as board members. A single responsibility creates a smaller demand for these crucial human resources.
It also helps balance the workload and ensure that no arguments take place among committee chairs over another person receiving the prestige of more than one or complaints that the additional workload is unfair.
#8: Set Member Term Limits
You do not want any gray areas that can later cause disputes. That includes the length of your board member’s term limits.
Always consult with your state’s guidelines for bylaws regarding parameters for minimum and maximum terms, then consult with your leadership to make a final decision.
Make it official by putting it in writing because once it is approved and established in your nonprofit’s bylaws, it creates governance for any disputes which arise, settling any issues before they start.
#9: Onboard New Members Properly
Committee turnover is inevitable. You cannot always control when member availability changes or life intervenes and they can no longer perform their duties.
Emily loves welcoming in new members!
However, you can control how well you prepare replacement members by creating an onboarding program that will allow them smooth acclimation to the team.
One of the best ways to do this is by designating a particular committee "buddy" or "mentor" to ease them into the transition and answer any questions they may have. This person can be an invaluable resource for a new member.
Also, perform a detailed orientation to offer your new committee member all the tools they need to make an immediate impact!
#10: Regularly Review Your Committee’s Performance
Take the time to analyze your committee’s performance levels. Monitor whether they are achieving their goals and whether they are meeting previously defined key performance indicators.
A failure to achieve goals probably means there is a breakdown within the process itself, so you may need to head back to the drawing board to evaluate the committee’s structure and makeup.
It’s helpful for everyone if the committee itself has the means to track their own performance so that they can have a hand in development, evaluation, and improvement as well.
Springly is trusted by over 20,000 nonprofits to help them run their organizations on a daily basis. Try it, test it, love it with a 14-day free trial!