Nonprofit Board Committees In A Modern Nonprofit

by | Jul 11, 2022

You know you’ve got a board meeting every 2nd Tuesday at 7:30 pm. And you probably know the quorum rules by heart. But when was the last time you analyzed the structure of your board of directors? 

More specifically, what board committees do you have? Are they the same ones that you need? 

Are your nonprofit board committees contributing to the effectiveness of your work or simply checking off the boxes someone gave you when your organization was set up years ago?

Nonprofit board committees can have an outsized and positive impact on your organization’s overall mission. But you have to be strategic about how you create and use them.

While there are no hard-and-fast rules for committee structure in nonprofits, we’ll share our thoughts and current trends for making sure your board committees are contributing to the organization and making your life easier.

What Are the Essential Nonprofit Board Committees?

There are a few guidelines you can reference when coming up with the committee structure that works best for your nonprofit. The traditional structure starts with a few core committees and adds additional committees as needed.

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Traditional Nonprofit Board Committees

Historically, nonprofits have identified three core committees to support the CEO or Executive Director as they fulfill the organization’s mission. These three are common to most boards, with additional committees created to supplement the work on an as-needed basis:

  • Nominating and Governance Committee
  • Finance or Risk Management Committee
  • Executive Committee

The Nominating and Governance Committee takes on the essential task of board development. Members of this committee recruit and welcome new members. They also educate the rest of the board on their duties and responsibilities to the organization. 

Meanwhile, audits, financial management, and risk mitigation fall under the purview of the Finance or Risk Management Committee. While the entire board is responsible for financial oversight, the finance committee researches the finances in more detail. It reviews financial statements in detail and makes recommendations to the full board on how to maximize resources while minimizing risk. 

And that brings us to the Executive Committee. The board’s officers and the CEO/ED typically serve on this board committee. The Executive Committee handles time-sensitive issues that come up between meetings and prioritizes the agendas for meetings of the full board of directors.

These core committees are often supported by other committees when necessary, including, but not limited to:

  • Fundraising Committee
  • Communication Committee
  • Investment Committee
  • Programs Committee
  • Compensation Committee

This traditional model has worked well for many nonprofits for decades. But the world of nonprofits is ever-evolving, and some organizations have started to move in the direction of a three-committee model that can make it easier to meet their needs.

What is the Three Committee Model?

Many nonprofits are moving to a three-committee model that covers most essential tasks while giving the committees a wider breadth of responsibilities.

Organizations that deploy the three-committee model will generally still have an executive committee, so it’s technically a four-committee model. But the executive committee’s role is more restrained than that of the 3 main committees.

#1: Governance

These committee members take the lead in everything related to board development. Their specific tasks might include things like:

  • Providing orientation for all new board members.
  • Creating necessary and relevant materials to enhance board meetings.
  • Evaluating the board’s overall performance.

An effective Governance Committee has the ability to maximize the board’s performance, which produces a ripple effect throughout the organization.

#2: Internal Affairs

The Internal Affairs Committee oversees all things operational and financial within the nonprofit. So they handle anything that directly influences the organization’s ability to fulfill its mission. 

For example, the board may charge this committee with things like:

  • Overseeing financial details (including audits, investments, and acquisitions)
  • Maintaining a positive climate in which personnel can thrive
  • Managing the organization’s buildings and facilities

So, while an Internal Affairs Committee has the same financial responsibilities as a traditional Finance Committee, its obligations expand to take a more holistic look at the internal workings of the organization.

#3: External Affairs

The third committee in the model handles anything intended for people outside of the organization. Depending on the work of the nonprofit, this may include foundations, donors, and the media, among others.

Some of the tasks typically delegated to the external affairs committee are:

  • Fundraising
  • Marketing
  • Communications
  • Public relations

The External Affairs Committee presents a cohesive message to all constituents outside of the nonprofits, ensuring the organization presents a consistent message to the outside world in all communications, instead of fundraising and public relations talking about the organization in different ways or presenting competing agendas.

Can Non-Board-Members Serve On Committees?

Many organizations mistakenly think that only board members can serve on committees, but that is NOT the case.

When we talked to Linda Lysakowsi on A Modern Nonprofit Podcast, she told us that appointing volunteers to serve on your committees alongside board members can take some pressure off your board while enriching your organization.

Here are 3 benefits of adding volunteers to your committees:

1. Relieve Pressure From Your Board Members

Board members work incredibly hard to further the mission of your organization. And no matter the length of their terms, it’s helpful to spread the work around when possible.

Volunteers can lighten the load significantly. And that support can go a long way in preventing board burnout.

2. Expand the Pool of Potential Board Members

Organizations ask board members to make quite a big commitment, often off at least three years. But your organization is also making a big commitment to work under that person’s leadership for a few years.

Offering a volunteer a limited role on one of your nonprofit board committees can help you identify people whole are passionate about the cause and work well within your structure. It can be a way to identify and vet potential future board members.

3. Infuse Fresh Ideas

As humans, we naturally gravitate toward others who are like us. And, since current board members typically nominate new board members, nonprofit boards can suffer from a lack of diverse experiences and perspectives.

Inviting a volunteer to serve on a board committee can be likened to opening the windows to welcome the fresh breeze of new ideas and personalities.

Diversity can present itself in several ways:

  • Cultural perspectives
  • Life experiences
  • Professional expertise
  • Relationships and connection

Want to Get More From Your Nonprofit Board Committees?

Board committees can be a powerful tool for getting things done in your nonprofit. Yet many nonprofits simply accept the way things have always been or copy what they have seen other organizations do.

Your committees will provide much more value if you think strategically about how to deploy them to spread the work evenly and cover the areas where you need help most.

If you’d like to learn more about building and utilizing your Board of Directors, check our podcast with Linda Lysakowski.

Lynda has trained over 30,000 nonprofit professionals worldwide and holds the prestigious Advanced Certified Fund Raising Executive (ACFRE) title. And in this episode, she shares her best advice for creating a more successful board of directors.

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