Board Committees

Flexing Your Board Committees to Work for You

Committees are a practical and efficient way to manage the work of the board. Standard practice has been for an organization’s bylaws to specify standing committees and their roles. The most common standing board committees are executive, finance, development, and governance (see the article from BoardSource here). Additional ad hoc committees or task forces can be formed when there are specific needs to address. Committees, if streamlined, active, and defined, can make board work easier and provide a way to get all board members active, and to take advantage of board members skills.

With change happening faster than ever, Boards need their committees to be able to flex so that they can respond to issues as they occur or emerge. Committee structure should be evaluated every year or two to examine if existing committees still have significant and important work left to do.  If the answer is no, then disband that committee and evaluate if other emerging strategic issues need a committee or work group (for short term or special projects) to help focus efforts and implementation.

The easiest way to keep the committee structure simple and flexible is to limit the number of standing committees to the bare minimum and supplement these with a few less permanent work groups.  Give each work group a written purpose and objectives. Create ground rules and determine the lines of communication on how committees and work groups will work with the board.

Some boards use ZERO-Based Committee Structure where  the board starts each year (or every two years) with a clean slate of NO committees. The at the beginning of the year, the board determines its organizational strategy and priorities. The board then establishes its committees and work groups based on its current needs. These groups are formed with the understanding that the group will disband once its objective is met or when the board decides the group should disband at its next annual review of committees.

Below are twelve questions to help you assess…


  1. Do your board members feel their participation in committees provides them with a way to contribute to the board’s work and use their expertise that regular meetings do not?
  2. Are committee assignments distributed evenly across the board so that every member has a chance to be involved?
  3. Do your board committees foster board-staff interaction and cooperation and deepen the board’s understanding of the issues that have an impact your organization?
  4. Do all of your work groups have an objective? A life span?
  5. Are any of your board members confused about your committees’ roles?
  6. Are any of your committees duplicating another committee’s work or the staff’s work?
  7. Has a standing committee that had important work to do in the past now completed its objective and taken on work that may not have been sanctioned by the board to occupy its time?
  8. Does your board have so many committees that your board members are being stretched thin and having to attend too many meetings?
  9. Are there committees that are too large or too small to be effective?
  10. Are there standing committees that could be turned into task forces with a specific objective to be accomplished within a specific time frame?\
  11. Are your board committees focused on policy and strategic work? Or are they involved in operations, which is usually the staff’s responsibility?
  12. If you have an executive committee, are all board members comfortable with the role it is playing? Does anyone feel the committee is acting in place of the board?Adapted from:  Board  2016.

Additional information on committees can be found at BoardSource here.