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A Strong Nonprofit Board Committee Structure Is Necessary For Effective Collaboration And Communication

A how-to guide for nonprofit board committees


The right nonprofit board committee structure helps your board do the work there’s no time for during regular board meetings. An effective structure also ensures you have the right committees and your board members aren’t serving on more committees than they need to.

We’ll cover the following topics to help you learn more about how to establish a nonprofit board committee structure that works optimally for your nonprofit board:

  • What are nonprofit board committees?
  • How to choose committee officers
  • Nonprofit board committee officer descriptions and duties
  • Structuring your nonprofit board committees: key considerations
  • Best practices for organizing your board committees

What Are Nonprofit Board Committees?

A nonprofit board committee is a group of people that works together on a specific topic or question and reports back to the board with recommendations. Any combination of board members, staff members, and volunteers can make up a board committee.

The benefit of a committee is it brings greater knowledge and perspectives together than what one individual can on their own.

Various committees have different purposes, and nonprofit boards can have as many or as few board committees as they need. Committees may be short-lived or permanent, depending on their purpose.

Typical Nonprofit Board Committees

It’s considered a best practice for all board members to serve on at least one committee. Yet, board members who serve on too many committees may be stretched too thin to serve on any of them well. It’s best to limit the number of committees only to the number needed.

Here is a list of some of the typical board committees for nonprofit organizations:

  • Executive Committee – Consists of officers and other individuals. The executive committee often serves as a steering committee to prioritize the board’s work. The committee also handles sensitive, confidential matters.
  • Standing Committee – Any permanent committee that meets regularly to discuss a certain issue such as marketing, fundraising, recruitment, etc.
  • Ad-Hoc Committee – A temporary committee created with a short-term purpose such as a planning committee for an annual event.
  • Fundraising Committee – A committee that works to set up fundraising activities, obtain sponsorships, and plan donor appreciation activities.
  • Finance Committee – An oversight committee that discusses and monitors investment strategies, capital campaigns, credit lines, and other funds.
  • Governance and Nominating Committees – A group dedicated to ensuring good governance and nominating board members.
  • Communications and Public Relations Committees – This committee is the contact for the media. Its members also manage the nonprofit’s social media accounts and may put out newsletters and official statements.
  • Audit Committee – The audit committee is usually an ad-hoc committee that reviews the nonprofit’s annual informational return for the IRS.

Committee members can collaborate and communicate securely directly in your board management system.

How to Choose Board Committee Members

Every committee needs a capable meeting facilitator, and that should be a consideration when selecting members for committees. There may also be a co-chairperson who helps lead meetings or runs meetings in the co-chair’s absence.

Committee members should be selected based on their level of expertise for the committee’s purpose and their ability to research issues they are unfamiliar with. As with the full board, committee members should be able to bring various perspectives to the committee.

Nonprofit Board Committee Duties and Responsibilities

The committee chairperson and each committee member have specific duties and responsibilities. Large committees may have officers such as the chairperson, co-chairperson, and secretary.

The committee chair or co-chair is responsible for scheduling committee meetings, developing an agenda, overseeing the committee’s work, and making a final report to the full board of directors. The secretary or another committee member is responsible for taking minutes and storing them.

Committee members must attend all committee meetings, conduct research as needed, and actively participate in committee meetings.

Structuring Your Nonprofit Committees: Key Considerations

Committees work in smaller groups which provides an environment that’s conducive to productivity. There  are several ways to structure committees.

What committees should a nonprofit board have? Most nonprofit boards have a few standing committees and a few ad hoc committees. A new trend in simplifying governance is to use a three-committee nonprofit board committee structure for a nonprofit.

The primary committees for nonprofit boards are:

  • Nominating and governance committee
  • Finance committee
  • Executive committee

Other typical nonprofit board committees may serve other needs such as:

  • Fundraising
  • Marketing
  • Communications
  • Investment
  • Programs
  • Compensation
  • IT and technology

To streamline committee work, many nonprofits are turning to an easy-to-manage three-committee model.

The Three-Committee Model

The three-committee model is gaining in popularity because it has a simple structure and it organizes all underlying committees. This type of structure is less demanding of board members’ time and gives them more time to focus on tasks other than logistics.

three-committee model is a unique nonprofit board committee structure with three main committees that arch over all other committees, and it consists of the following committees:

  1. Governance Committee – Recruits new members, holds orientations, creates meeting materials, and evaluates the board’s performance. The executive committee may also fall under this committee.
  2. Internal Affairs Committee – Handles all internal and operational issues that relate to finance investments, capital acquisitions, personnel, and buildings.
  3. External Affairs Committee – Manages all external things, including fundraising, communications, media, public relations, and marketing.

A small number of committees is often easier for nonprofit boards to manage. Each committee has direct ties to the board’s leadership and the lines of accountability for each committee are clear. This nonprofit committee structure also makes it easy to structure board agendas around the reports of the three committees.

Best Practices for Organizing Your Board Committees

The following nonprofit board committee best practices will help you organize your board committees for maximum productivity:

  • Only set up committees when you need them to serve a specific purpose.
  • Each committee should be clear on its purpose.
  • All ad-hoc committees should establish a timeframe for completing their work.
  • All board members should serve on one committee.
  • Each committee should have a committee chair and a secretary to take minutes.
  • Committee meetings should start and stop on time.
  • The committee chair should create a written report of the committee’s work.

The Right Structure of Nonprofit Board Committees Ensures Effectiveness

Good governance, improved productivity, and the right committee structure make an impactful difference for your nonprofit board. If the current committee structure isn’t working, it’s time to restructure your committee work so it makes a positive impact on the board and ultimately, the organization.

To learn more about how to make your board’s work meaningful, download The Nonprofit’s Guide to Board Effectiveness and share it with your board today!


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