8 Questions to Assess Your Board Committee Structure

The work of the board often happens in committee. The structure, purpose, and composition of board committees are of critical importance to the organization; yet the strategy behind them is often not prioritized.

We often find clients have a long list of committees, have committees that once served a purpose but are no longer active, or struggle with the purpose and composition of those committees.

When evaluating your committee structure, consider the following questions:

  1. Do the organization’s by-laws indicate required committees? If so, does your current structure comply with the by-laws or are revisions needed?
  2. Which committees are considered standing versus ad hoc? Standing committees are those that are permanent, while ad hoc committees are time-limited and specific, such as a search committee.
  3. Do your committees have clear purpose and goal statements for the current and next fiscal years?
  4. Is the composition of each committee defined? For example, are non-board members permitted to serve? How engaged are those members?
  5. Have the committees been identified as either strategic (board led) or operational (staff led)?
  6. If you have an executive committee, how active is it? Has it become a “board within the board” because of a power and decision-making dynamic?
  7. Does your board utilize a written committee report out so that board meetings are not dominated by recaps of what happened in each committee?
  8. How often do your committees meet, how long are the meetings, and how many committee members attend regularly?

According to the 2021 Leading with Intent: BoardSource Index of Nonprofit Board Practices, the mean number of standing committees nationally is 4.1. Chief executives have reported:

  • 82.1% have audit, finance, or audit/finance combined committees.
  • 75.9% have development/fundraising committees.
  • 70.5% have governance, nominating, or governance/nominating combined committees.
  • 61.4% have executive committees.

BoardSource offers further guidance on committees including a description of “zero-based” committee structures, which starts each fiscal year with no committees and forces the organization to actively decide what committee structure is best for the needs of the organization in that year.

A strategic committee structure improves board governance, effectiveness, efficiency, and culture because expectations are clearly defined. We encourage you to take the time needed to make your structure best meets the organization’s needs.

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