Have you ever wanted to add an important topic to the agenda that you just knew was going to generate a robust discussion? Maybe your hopes were dashed when you saw that there were already more items on the agenda that there would be time to discuss during the meeting. That may not be such a bad thing after all. When there isn’t time to discuss an issue at a board meeting, put it on the agenda anyway. You can always file a motion to move the issue to a committee for comprehensive consideration and recommendations.
What if the board doesn’t have an appropriate committee for your issue? File a motion to create a committee for that purpose. This is a sure way to give your issue the full attention that it deserves. Once the committee is formed, it’s time to write a charter so that the committee stays on track and fulfills its purpose. Here are some tips to help you write the committee’s charter.
Purpose or Mission Statement
This section can be a simple statement of purpose or a more formal mission statement. A mission statement should reflect the work that the committee needs to do. It can also be a longer narrative that includes the committee’s purpose, primary goals, and objectives. The purpose statement can also describe the functions and responsibilities of the committee.
Type of Committee and Area of the Program
This section should state whether the committee is a standing committee or a special committee. Standing committees meet regularly for a specified purpose. Examples of standing committees are governance committees and finance committees.
Special committees are formed to serve for a limited amount of time with a designated purpose in mind. An example of a special meeting is a committee to review the board handbook or to do the planning for a special event.
The charter should have a section that defines the size and composition of who should serve on the committee. Look at this sample of a charter with specific details on membership. Generally, at least one board member should serve on each committee. Depending upon the purpose of the committee, the membership may also consider including an advisory board member. The membership section should state whether the committee is open to interested non-members or the public.
Committees generally consist of five to seven members, but a committee can be as small as two people.
The membership section should also state which members of the committee receive voting privileges.
When writing the charter, committee members should designate how the chairperson will be selected. The committee chair can be voted on by the full board, voted on by the committee, or appointed by the board chair. These rules should not be written in way that conflicts with the organization’s bylaws. Don’t forget to include the term of the chairperson, which is typically for a period of one year.
In most cases, the committee should designate a co-chair or vice chair in case the committee chair can’t be present. This is especially important for standing committees that meet all year long.
Activities, Duties, and Responsibilities
This section is the meat and bones of the committee’s charter. It spells out exactly what the committee needs to do. More importantly, it outlines what the committee is responsible for. For example, a duty of the governance committee may be to recruit new members and bring candidates to the board for review.
Delegation of Authority
Every charter should have a section that details the kinds of decisions that the committee can make without formal approval from the board. For example, it may state that the governance committee may send a packet out to potential board member recruits or give the fundraising committee a budget to carry out their duties. Check out this example of a charter that outlines responsibilities that are delegated and reserved by the charter.
Standard Committee Procedures
Every committee will need to know how often they will be expected meet. The frequency of meetings will be outlined in this section of the charter. For example, a charter may state that the fundraising committee will meet from May through August for the annual September fundraiser.
The committee charter should state when their work is completed and include a deadline for when they will make a presentation or recommendations to the full board. Committees may also want to include verbiage regarding how or when they should make requests to other committees or the full board. For example, the charter may state the deadline for the committee to submit a request to the finance committee for an increase in the committee’s budget for the coming year.
Charters should list who authored the charter. It should also be approved by the board and signed and dated by the board chair.
Final Thoughts About Committee Charters
While committees can begin writing a charter by using a template, every charter should be customized to the needs of the committee. The New Hampshire affiliate of the National Council of Non-Profits offers some helpful charter templates. Their website includes links for templates for an audit committee, executive committee, finance committee, and program committee.
A committee that struggles to write a charter can start with a similar committee’s charter as a starting point. Take a look at the Great Boards site by The American Hospital Association for some samples of their board’s committees.