Even when you have good people all around on a nonprofit board, the structure of the board and committees is important to the health and sustainability of the operation. Well-chosen board officers enhance an existing good nonprofit board committee structure. Since much of a board’s work is done in committees, the structure of standing and ad hoc committees can make a big difference in how much work the board can accomplish.
While an effective nonprofit board committee structure is essential to a board’s work, committee members need a secure electronic platform where they can communicate and collaborate. BoardEffect fits the bill with a state-of-the-art board management software system that has all the features boards need, including secure communications, secure file-sharing and granular permissions.
Choose Board Officers Thoughtfully
Something that’s important for nominating committees to consider when recruiting board candidates is making sure that every candidate can run a board meeting. Every board meeting needs a capable board meeting facilitator.
Board directors typically vote on the board officers at the first meeting of the fiscal year. Most nonprofit boards elect members to four officer positions, including board chair, vice-chair, secretary and treasurer. The roles, terms and job descriptions should be outlined clearly in the organization’s bylaws or by board policy. Information about officer positions should always be in writing, in addition to always being stored in the board management software system so that it’s accessible to all board members .
Nonprofit Board Officer Descriptions and Duties
Each officer has specific duties and responsibilities, and it’s important for each of them to work together while staying in their own lane.
The board chair or board president oversees the work of the board, the senior management team and the organization. In addition, the board chair should have a good working relationship with the executive director. The executive director should assure the board chair that the board’s decisions and resolutions are being carried out as requested.
Board chairs usually have the authority to appoint all committee chairs and to recommend committee members as appropriate.
In other duties, the board chair works closely with the executive director to prepare board meeting agendas for board meetings. In addition, board chairs play a major role in conducting new board member orientation sessions.
Another duty that falls to the board chair is coordinating an annual performance review of the executive director. It’s considered best practices for nonprofit boards to do annual self-evaluations. Board chairs assist in helping board directors assess their own performance.
As lead board director and meeting facilitator, board chairs also work closely with governance committees on recruiting board members.
For boards that don’t have a lead communications person, board chairs often serve as an alternate spokesperson for the organization.
Vice-chairs or vice-presidents are also a vital part of the leadership team. Their role is to fill in for the board president as needed and to carry out special assignments as requested by the chair.
Secretaries for nonprofits are required to attend all board meetings and be responsible for maintaining complete and accurate board meeting minutes. Secretaries also ensure compliance with government laws and the organization’s bylaws.
Treasurers are responsible for creating a budget and any financial reports needed. Treasurers work with audit teams to complete the annual audit and answer the rest of the board’s questions about the audit. In addition, treasurers may collect membership dues and pay the organization’s bills
Establishing Functional Nonprofit Board Committee Structures
Committees undertake much of the board’s work. Committees work in smaller groups that provide an environment that’s conducive to productivity. During committees, members perform research and make recommendations to the board for actions and decisions so that the board can better focus on more pressing matters.
There are several ways to structure committee meetings. Most nonprofit boards have a few standing committees and a few ad hoc committees. A new trend in governance that’s gaining popularity is to use a three-committee nonprofit board committee structure.
The primary committees for nonprofit boards are the nominating and governance committee, the finance and/or risk committee and the executive committee.
The nominating and governance committee is responsible for recruiting and orienting new board directors. They may also be charged with ongoing board member education and development.
Boards may also create a committee that accepts responsibility for some combination of finance, risk management and auditing. Duties will vary based on the type of committee they create.
An executive committee usually comprises the board’s officers and the chief executive. This group deals with issues that arise between board meetings. Executive committees may also serve as steering committees that prioritize items for board agendas.
Boards may also form committees or task forces for any other need they may have, such as:
The Trend Is a Three-Committee Model
In an effort to streamline committee work, many nonprofits are turning to an easy-to-manage three-committee model.
A three-committee model consists of a governance committee, an internal affairs committee and an external affairs committee. This model also allows for the formation of an executive committee.
Under this model, governance committees recruit new members, hold orientations, create meeting materials and evaluate the board’s performance.
The internal affairs committee handles all internal and operational issues that relate to finance investments, capital acquisitions, personnel and buildings.
The external affairs committee deals with all external things, including fundraising, communications, media, public relations and marketing.
The three-committee model is gaining in popularity because board members only need to serve on one committee and there are fewer committee meetings to attend. It’s less demanding of board members’ time and gives them more time to focus on tasks other than logistics.
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 committee structure also makes it easy to structure board agendas around the reports of the three committees.
In the quest for good board composition, good governance and increased productivity, committee structure makes an impactful difference. If the current committee structure isn’t working, it’s time to restructure committee work so that it makes a positive impact on the board and the organization.