Browse Articles

Board committees: Work smarter, not harder

June 2017
By: Tom Lothamer & John McCastle

If your center has been around a while and the board only has a few members, breaking it down into committees doesn’t make sense. But a healthy board that has been around 5 or more years with sufficient members could benefit by delegating responsibility to various committees. 

How do committees function? What are the benefits of having board committees?

In the process of evaluating whether to implement board committees, your board should discuss the following questions: Do we have enough members on our board? Are we meeting too often? What are we accomplishing during meetings? Do our meetings last too long? 

If, by your members' reckoning, your board meets too frequently and for too long, it could mean you’re trying to do too much. Boards have many responsibilities, but everything doesn’t need to happen during meetings of the full board. Some tasks can be handled by committees outside of regular board meetings.

Would you like to meet less and accomplish more? Committees could be the answer.

Let’s say you currently meet every month. Consider having a meeting of the full board in January and then committee meetings in February. The committees report to full board at the March meeting. Now your board only meets every other month and you get as much (or more) accomplished!

GUIDELINES FOR BOARD COMMITTEES

  • A committee must have a specific function and purpose. As John McCastle says, “A committee doesn’t set out to create a horse and get a camel.” Cardinal rule: never form a committee unless it has a job to do and a job description.

  • A committee may have a limited lifetime. For instance, if the PCC is hiring a new executive director or raising funds for a building project, the search committee or capital campaign committee will cease to exist when that task is complete.

  • Some committees can have non-board members. A member of the board will chair the committee, but it’s reasonable and advantageous to choose people for the committee from the community at large if they have a set of skills needed by the committee. 

Committee members that are not board members should be approved by the full board. They do not attend board meetings except to provide expert advice.

Committee members that are not board members should nevertheless share the organization's mission and vision.

Term-limited board members can stay involved by serving on committees. 

Committees are "breeding grounds" for new members, receiving valuable exposure to the ministry.

  • Committees report to the full board and give it action-items for votes. Non-members do not vote with the board on that action. For example, a committee may be tasked with finding a new facility for the center; committee members will visit potential sites and choose the best ones to bring the full board; the board will make the final decision.

  • The board chair should ensure that the committee's efforts are not wasted. The full board should give the ministry its task and back off. Trust it to perform and don't expect to rehash the committee's process in meetings of the full board.

  • Board committees do not release the board from its roles and responsibilities. Some boards fall short because they lack time or expertise to meet all their obligations. Committees can greatly help. 

  • Keep minutes of committee meetings. They become part of the full board’s minutes.

Here's an overview of board committees that could be formed and their various functions:

THE GOVERNANCE COMMITTEE provides the equivalent of "preventative medicine" to a board. This group works to ensure a board has the right people with the right mix of skills, up-to-date and relevant policies, and the capacity to examine its own work and make changes when necessary. It should consist of board members only.

This committee can help the board when trouble arises, but ongoing checkups and good habits should render emergencies obsolete. Ultimately, the governance committee helps institutionalize effective governance practices for the present and future health of an organization.These are things a governance committee can do:

  1. Recruit a good composition of board members

  2. Educate the board about its roles and responsibilities

  3. Ensure accuracy and implementation of board member job descriptions

  4. Assist the full board in removing non-contributing board members

  5. Conduct a board self-assessment

  6. Conduct an annual board retreat

  7. Assess the bylaws annually and file any changes with the state

  8. Review the IRS 990 

If your full board does not meet every month, an EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE can handle decisions that must be made before the next meeting. Typically a board of 13 or more members will name an executive committee, and it will consist solely of the officers of the board. 

This is the only committee that can make decisions on behalf of the full board, as directed by the board. The board will determine which decisions the executive committee can make, and the executive committee will immediately report all its decisions to the board. These are its responsibilities:

  1. Coordinates the full board’s performance and compensation review of the chief executive

  2. Serves as a sounding board for the chief executive

  3. Works on special board projects, such as the organization’s strategic plan

The FINANCIAL COMMITTEE may consist of only two people, and include the financial professional who conducts the organization’s audit or financial statement (and is not on the board). This committee would disseminate financial information to the board in a simple format and timely manner so members can request clarifications prior to the board meeting. Here’s what this committee does:

  1. Oversees organizational financial planning 

  2. Sees to it that adequate funds are available for the plan

  3. Safeguards organizational assets, especially restricted gifts 

  4. Drafts organizational fiscal policies

  5. Anticipates financial problems 

  6. Ensures that the board receives accurate and complete information 

  7. Helps the board comprehend financial documents and the organization’s overall financial position

  8. Ensures that federal, state, and local reporting takes place

The DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE works with the chief executive and other development staff to engage the board in fundraising, particularly on fundraising events. This committee’s responsibilities may include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  1. Helps staff develop the organization’s annual fundraising plan

  2. Motivates other board members and volunteers to cultivate and solicit gifts

  3. Develops board and staff policies related to gift solicitation and recognition

  4. Ensures that the case for support is strong, current, and based on the organization’s mission and goals

  5. Helps develop strategies for cultivation of major gift prospects

  6. Helps evaluate potential prospects for increased contributions

  7. Helps develop expectations for financial contributions from the board, and provides leadership by making their own gifts

  8. Actively participates in special events and provides leadership for capital campaigns

ADVISORY COMMITTEE members may have a special skill or area of expertise that is missing from the board or staff roster– legal, medical, financial, facilities, development, etc. Committee members can:

  1. Serve as ambassadors for the organization, building bridges into the community and fostering a sense of accountability

  2. Bring in outside support and expertise to an organization 

  3. Link the organization to grassroots community concerns, celebrities, and potential funders

  4. Survey the need for new programs

  5. Oversee fundraising events such as a walk for life, banquet, auction, etc.

 

Every one of the committee tasks listed above is a responsibility of the board. You can see how committees allow boards to break these tasks into bite-sized chunks. Choose the committees that will make the board's job easier.

The concept of board committees has been around for years, but many centers have not yet implemented them. It takes effort, energy, and planning to make committees work, but if you do, the board’s job becomes easier and you can accomplish more. You’ll increase your exposure to the community and draw in more people to help the ministry.

Can you do your job without committees? Sure, but wouldn’t you rather be more effective?

Learn more: 


John McCastle has as a director of PCCs in both small towns and metropolitan areas. He helped form the Alliance for Life of Missouri,  a state coalition of PCCs. After retiring, he helped started two more PCCs!

Tom Lothamer began as a board member with Life Matters Worldwide in 1985 before becoming its director of finance and development, and later its president. During that time he served on his local school board for 16 years and went through Carver governance training. 



All text and images in this web site Copyright © 2000-2017 by Life Matters Worldwide.
Your comments on this publication are always welcome and can help us make future issues even better.
PO Box 3158, Grand Rapids, MI 49501
Contact Us
Phone: 1-800-968-6086
Login