How to Structure Your Nonprofit Board
Understanding Nonprofit Structure and Committees
Every nonprofit strives to make a difference in the world and looks to its board to lead the way by planning for its future, safeguarding its fiscal health, and monitoring its programs to ensure mission impact.
However, accomplishing this important work in bimonthly or quarterly meetings is difficult. Most boards create different groups within their membership to manage their responsibilities and handle that load.
How to Properly Structure Your Nonprofit Board
Board groups can take one of three forms, depending on their purpose:
- Standing committees help manage ongoing board activities
- Task forces manage time-limited assignments
- Advisory groups provide guidance and insight on particular issues
When used strategically, these smaller groups enable board members to perform critical tasks and functions, often between full board meetings, in an efficient and meaningful manner. As for how those groups should be structured, there isn’t a single right answer.
Common Nonprofit Board Committees
While BoardSource recommends a “lean” board structure, the right composition for a board depends on a variety of factors, with the most important being what the nonprofit needs to accomplish its mission and serve its purpose. Board structures should not be static. As board and staff members, the organization, and the community around you change, so should your committees and task forces. Below are some common committees to consider:
Governance Committee: This committee focuses on building a board that meets the organization’s needs and supports good governance by engaging board members in a robust recruitment and onboarding process, providing ongoing education, facilitating an inclusive and engaged culture, and formally assessing the board’s performance.
Executive Committee: The executive committee typically performs policy work on behalf of the board and acts as liaison to the chief executive. Its main purpose is to facilitate decision-making between board meetings or in a crisis. Some executive committees also coordinate strategic planning and conduct executive searches. The role of the committee should be defined in the bylaws and it reports to and is accountable to the full board.
Finance Committee: The finance committee supports the board’s responsibility for oversight of the organization’s fiscal health. It recommends policies to the full board to safeguard the nonprofit’s assets, ensures the completeness and accuracy of its financial records, and oversees proper use of resources.
Audit Committee: This committee, or the combined finance and audit committee, selects an independent auditor and serves as a link between the auditor and the board. It ensures that the auditor has full access to financial and related records, reviews the auditor’s report and submits it to the board, and arranges for the full board to meet with the auditor. It is also advised to check your state-specific legal requirements for having distinct finance and audit committees.
Development Committee: The development committee provides input and insight into the organization’s fundraising strategy and engages board members in their individual and collective fundraising roles.
Managing the myriad of responsibilities a board must handle is not without challenges, but utilizing committees or task forces can make a world of difference. Whether your board is forming its first committees or is adjusting its structure to fit new needs, following the common practices outlined above and using additional BoardSource resources can help you create efficiency and better connection within your board.
For more information on committees, take a look at our new book, Nonprofit Board Committees.
The first comprehensive resource BoardSource has published on committees in 15 years includes everything you need to know about board structure, common standing board committees, and advisory groups in one volume. It’s designed to help you be creative in rethinking how you might structure your board and be flexible in experimenting with different strategies.
101 Resource | Last updated: October 19, 2022
Resource: Nonprofit Board Committees