12/20/2013 10:02 am ET Updated Feb 19, 2014

Build an Effective Nonprofit Committee

While committees are often viewed simply as groups taking on smaller designated tasks, they actually make a significant difference in the overall efficiency of an organization. Whether it's for financial oversight, fundraising or perhaps some other time-limited functions, creating a committee is something that should not be taken lightly. Here are a few ways to establish a well-functioning committee.

Define the Purpose
Everything should start with setting a purpose. It is crucial to distinguish what the committee will be doing. Defining the purpose also should include the reason behind why the tasks cannot be looked into by the full board itself.

Improved efficiency is one example for creating a committee. With one or several subgroups operating, more focus can be directed on even the smallest of work areas. This allows the board to concentrate on the bigger issues and determine the best final decisions.

Once the purpose has been defined, this should be translated to tangible tasks. This also means establishing timelines and projecting specific outcomes.

Find the Right Committee Members
When finding members, consider the committee's purpose and the organization's needs. Will the committee require someone with financial expertise? Connections?

Perhaps what's more essential is whether the committee members are familiar with the nonprofit's constituency. Identifying the committee members' skills and experiences and how they can benefit the committee is vital in this stage.

Appoint a Committee Chair With Excellent Leadership Skills
For a committee to effectively and efficiently operate, a committee chair with strong leadership and governance skills is necessary. Here are basic responsibilities of a committee chair:

  • Translate the committee's established purpose into action plans.
  • Manage the members, making sure they are focused on accomplishing their designated tasks.
  • Communicate with the full board to make sure that both parties' plans coincide.
  • Enhance and support the board's agenda.

It is important to keep in mind that a committee, or any group for that matter, is actually just as effective as its leader.

Preset the Meeting Times
Set up a schedule for meeting dates and times in advance. This way, it will be easier for everyone in the committee to adjust and plot his or her individual schedules.

If this is not possible, then decide when the next meetings shall take place before adjourning preceding meetings. Building a timeline for activities will make it easier and smoother for the committee to function in the long run.

Add Value
Nothing is more frustrating to committees than spending a lot of time researching, discussing, and outlining recommendations only to end up with everything getting rehashed by the full board. Learn how to prevent this from happening:

  • Help establish trust between the committee and the board members.
  • Make sure the chairman of the board keeps control of the discussions during the meetings, and if necessary, sends feedback immediately to the committee. This way, improvements can be looked into faster without taking so much of the board's time.
  • Provide the board with sufficient information, including full recommendations. In doing so, the committee can help the board make more informed decisions.

In addition to discipline and hard work, trust and familiarity from the board also contributes significantly to the efficiency and effectiveness of a committee. If the higher ups start to doubt the operational capacity of their subgroups, task designation is at risk. By establishing the notion that the committee is valuable, trust will be earned, and a strong connection is bound to result.