The key role of the nonprofit board is to oversee fulfillment of the organization's mission and vision as well as make governing decisions that are in line with it. In order to do this, most boards form committees that are responsible for different aspects of organizational operations. Board committees in an organization oversee everything from finances to public relations and the chief executive's performance. The organization's size, bylaws, services and board size all play into the types of committees that are required for functioning.
Role of Board Committees
Most boards are comprised of members who specialize in things like finance, legal concerns or public relations. These experts lend their professional skills to the organization to accelerate organizational growth in carrying out the mission and vision.
It would be impractical for the entire board to meet and discuss every issue pertaining to the nonprofit at length. The role of board committees is to streamline operations by handling specialized areas like finance, governance, public relations and more. Instead of being present at every committee meeting, board members simply attend the committee meetings that pertain to their area of expertise.
Types of Board Committees
The types of board committees in an organization depend upon the size and committee structure of the nonprofit. Some nonprofits operate with a three-committee structure to keep things simple. The committees in these organizations are as follows:
- Internal Affairs: This committee handles everything pertaining to inside operations of the organization, such as finances, facilities and human resources.
- External Affairs: This committee handles everything pertaining to the outside operations of the organization, like public relations, marketing and fundraising.
- Governance Committee: This committee handles everything related to board performance, recruiting new members, training new members and creating board materials.
When an organization has a large board and these three committee meetings do not adequately address the operational needs of the organization, become bogged down with lengthy agendas or include too many people, sometimes additional committees are needed. The committee structure changes so that these additional committees essentially split up the duties of the internal affairs, external affairs and governance committees. While this can be effective, a larger committee structure can also introduce more opportunities for communication snafus and can make operations feel clunky.
About the Executive Committee
The executive committee is typically comprised of the executive director, board chair, vice chair, secretary and the chairs of each committee. The executive director communicates with the executive committee between board meetings to address issues that cannot wait until the next meeting as well as to formulate board meeting agendas.
This committee typically knows about organizational issues before the rest of the board. Care must be taken to maintain transparent communication with the rest of the board in order to avoid creating an "us and them" culture.
About the Finance Committee
The finance committee is responsible for overseeing the budget and financial operations of the nonprofit organization, including taxes. The most qualified board members are included in this committee as well as the chair, vice chair, executive director and secretary.
Many boards have people with accounting or legal expertise that are intentionally included in this committee. They lend their expertise to ensure that the nonprofit remains financially healthy and able to achieve its mission and vision.
About the Fundraising Committee
Nonprofits rely on donations and financial support in order to offer the meaningful services they contribute to the community. Part of the nonprofit's budget outlines how much money must be raised each year after subtracting things like board giving and grants.
The fundraising committee is comprised of the executive director, chair, secretary and specialized members of the board. This committee's aim is to expand the organization's reach, plan fundraising efforts and provide support to board members as they seek donor support for the nonprofit.
About the Governance Committee
The governance committee in a board with several committees is the same as it is in a three-committee system. They are responsible for recruiting new board members, determining board composition and preparing board materials.
This is also the committee responsible for working with the executive director to determine when a change in the number or function of committees in an organization is needed. They then propose the changes in the larger board meeting so that members can vote on them.
About the Communications Committee
The communications committee is responsible for things like donor relations, community relations and public relations. This includes responsibility for press releases, social media presence and marketing materials. This committee includes the executive director, chair and members of the board who hold expertise in communications.
About the Audit Committee
The audit committee is sometimes combined with the finance committee and is responsible for performing internal audits. This committee oversees the financial integrity and responsibility of the organization in accordance with all laws and statutes.
It is important that this committee include board members with specialized legal and financial expertise. Some nonprofits hire contractors to perform the audit when board members are not qualified to perform this role.
Organization Task Forces
Committees in an organization often include task forces that are responsible for managing time-limited tasks or events within the organization. For example, a task force might form to put together the volunteer appreciation dinner, organize a yearly fundraising gala or communicate with donors about upcoming organizational changes. Because these things do not require a long-term commitment, it makes more sense for a task force to handle them than to form a permanent board committee.
Board Member Job Descriptions
Most nonprofit board members are leaders or experts in the community who volunteer their time to the organization. Good board members do this because they feel passionately about the importance of the organization's mission and vision. Since they are not compensated for their time, it is vital that their time is respected and their expertise is used efficiently.
Board member job descriptions that are well thought out ensure that board members know for what they are and are not responsible. They clearly spell out on which committees each board member sits as well as their expected time commitment each month.
Understanding Board Efficiency
When a nonprofit's board is organized well with appropriate committees and clear job descriptions as well as committed members, it accelerates how quickly the organization fulfills its vision and mission statements. If board meetings start to feel too long, people complain about having to attend too many committee meetings or miscommunication becomes the norm, it might be time to assess board structure. Similarly, when the organization's services change or feel held up by the board, it is time to pay attention.
As a nonprofit grows and changes, it is not uncommon for it to need to change committee structures. A very small nonprofit that started with a three-committee system might feel quite bogged down by the same structure five years later.
Similarly, a nonprofit that formed too many committees too early might find that board members are consistently volunteering more time than they agreed to in the beginning, which can lead to resentment. The governance committee or the board as a whole can meet to change from one structure to another or merge multiple committees into one or two committees that are easier to manage.
- BoardEffect: What Does a Committee Member Do on a Nonprofit Board?
- BoardSource: Structure, Committees, and Meetings
- Nolo: Building Your Nonprofit's Board
- BoardEffect: Top 10 Duties of Nonprofit Board Members
- National Council of Nonprofits: Board Engagement
- MissionBox: Board Officers and Committees: What Structure Works Best?
- NH Center for Nonprofits: Sample Documents & Templates