Sunday, January 2, 2011

To Committee or Not to Committee

Are you feeling frustrated about your organization's committees? Are the meetings chaotic, unproductive, or simply non-existent? Do you struggle to find enough volunteers to reach critical mass? Does the fundraising committee fail to raise money, the nomination committee fail to recruit, and the personnel committee fail to effectively evaluate your executive director?

If so, stop wasting time and start streamlining your committee structure:
  • Eliminate most of your standing committees. Maintaining inactive and unproductive committees is foolish, time-consuming, and can lead to staff and volunteer burnout. Use committees only when it is clear the issues are too complex or too numerous to be managed by the full board.
  • Creative specific time-limited task forces and ad hoc committees. Your board members and volunteers will feel much more motivated signing up to work on projects with defined goals and deadlines, rather than on a standing committee with a vague purpose and no end in sight. Tasks can include evaluating programs, reviewing marketing plans, updating personnel policies, and planning special events.
  • Make fundraising a job for the full board. Providing adequate resources is first and foremost a board responsibility; effective fundraising is an important measure of the board's capabilities and commitment. Yet most board members shy away from soliciting donations, and few are willing to join a fundraising committee. The best way to get every board member to fundraise is to make this a core function of the whole board.
  • Recruit skilled volunteers who are not board members. Each committee should have a critical mass of at least five people: two board members, the appropriate staff member - and committed non-board members with relevant expertise.
  • Schedule effectively and efficiently. Use email and online bulletin boards for progress reports; schedule meetings for strategic planning, decision-making, and assignments. Establish a timed agenda, stay focused, and make sure your meetings last no longer than two hours - after that, no one attending will be paying much attention or at their best.
Two permanent committees are essential:
  1. The Finance Committee is charged with ongoing financial oversight. This includes developing projected budgets, tracking actual spending vs. the budget, looking at cash flow, overseeing insurance coverage, assessing salaries and benefits, and reviewing financial policies.
  2. The Governance Committee is responsible for the health and functioning of the board, as well as maintaining a good board/staff relationships. This includes determining what skills are required on the board, recruiting new board and committee members, recommending a slate of officers, orienting new members, reviewing and updating organizational policies, assessing the board's work, organizing board retreats, and conducting an annual executive director performance review.
There is no one correct model for a nonprofit committee structure. What your organization needs to further its mission is dependent on your organizational culture, its size and budget, and how long you've been around. Plus your needs will change as your nonprofit grows and evolves. Be thoughtful and creative as you assess what functions and what doesn't, and establish a committee structure that will truly work for your organization.

1 comment:

  1. Great advice! I also consider an audit committee an essential committee even though it may only meet twice a year - once to plan the audit and then to review it.