Board Cafe: Governance Committees: New Trend on Nonprofit Boards

Board Cafe

Governance Committees: New Trend on Nonprofit Boards

By Betsy Rosenblatt

Even as boards reduce the number of standing committees, at least one new committee is being created more frequently: a Governance Committee or Board Affairs Committee. Formerly known as the board development committee or the nominating committee, the Governance Committee replaces these but also does more. The governance committee can serve as the "conscience of the board."

The governance committee examines how the board is functioning, how board members communicate, and whether the board is fulfilling its responsibilities and living up to the objectives and aspirations set for itself and the organization. While all board members should understand the organization's mission and goals, the governance committee must consider them with an eye on the board's responsibility to guide the organization and what is required of the board to best accomplish that. The governance committee must be able to articulate the board's vision and find the individuals who can execute it.

Specific committee responsibilities:

Find, keep, and/or get rid of board members.
* Develop board member job descriptions. To recruit a balanced and well-equipped board, create a board profile of what skills and expertise you need.
* Identify potential board members and maintain information about each candidate. Cultivate and recruit new members from beyond your traditional circles.
* With the board chair, help evaluate board members' individual commitment, support, and participation in governance duties.* Observe and evaluate potential leaders within the board. Evaluate board members' eligibility for re-election.
Educate board members
* Make a priority of orienting new board members. Ensure that they have adequate materials and understanding of their roles and responsibilities.
* Involve board members in "continuing education" throughout their board service. The governance committee can ensure that board members are updated (about new programs, legislative action, etc.) and continue to grow their skills as board members. This process also establishes a climate of belonging for board volunteers.
* Establish an effective communications network to keep board members apprised of activities through newsletters, board and committee minutes, media reports, phone calls, thank you notes, etc.
Evaluate the board's performance.
* Annually conduct a self-assessment of the board and report back to the board with recommendations.
* Discuss with the chief executive staff and perhaps other staff their views of the board's performance and ways to strengthen the board in both its governing and supporting role.

These particular tasks are only the skeleton of the governance committee's job. The spirit of the committee is to ensure that the board is doing its job and doing it well, and if not, come up with ways to remedy that.

Original publication date: 8/15/2000

© 2000 CompassPoint Nonprofit Services